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National champs! DWU women blow out rival Concordia for first title

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The Dakota Wesleyan bench celebrates a 3-pointer during the NAIA Division II National Championship game against Concordia University on Tuesday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 3
Dakota Wesleyan's Chesney Nagel (32) dribbles past Concordia's Brenleigh Daum (22) during the NAIA Division II National Championship game on Tuesday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. (Matt Gade / Republic)3 / 3

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- There’s going to be a new banner hanging at the Corn Palace.

After five tournament victories, the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team claimed the program’s first national championship on Tuesday.

Finally getting over the Concordia hump, the Tigers ran their Great Plains Athletic Conference rivals off the floor in the biggest game of the year. DWU (32-6) handed the No. 2 Bulldogs just their second loss of the season with a convincing 82-59 victory in the NAIA Division II national tournament championship at a roaring Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

“We got up this morning ready to play and prove to the nation we were the No. 1 team,” said Kynedi Cheeseman, who was named the tournament’s MVP.

“Our mentality was just to keep attacking. It worked really well on the offensive end.”

Drilling 15-of-31 3-pointers and playing their trademark tough man-to-man half-court defense, the Tigers rattled the Bulldogs (36-2) for three quarters and won their fifth tournament game by double digits.   

“This time we played defense and shot it real well,” said DWU head coach Jason Christensen, who was named the NAIA coach of the year after the game. “I’m so happy for the kids, the community and Dakota Wesleyan. It’s just awesome for our school.”

It was a team effort as seven Tigers scored, and six players hit shots from behind the arc. Cheeseman and Ashley Bray capped off stellar tournaments with 26 and 21 points, respectively. Chesney Nagel added 12 points, Rylie Osthus added seven points, nine assists and six rebounds and Madison Mathews and Sarah Carr each scored six points.

“We played our hearts out and you could see that on the floor,” Nagel said. “We knew we had to win every five minutes. We had the utmost confidence in our shooters and that showed.”

Christensen pointed out Nagel hit her first 3-point attempt of the game, and he praised the ability of Nagel and Osthus to protect the ball as DWU finished with 11 turnovers.

“A lot of teams don’t want to guard her (on the 3-point line). She hit her first shot out of the gate and that set the tone for us. That’s what a senior is suppose to do,” Christensen said. “When shots are going in, good things happen.”

Both teams came out firing, exchanging the lead four times in the first five minutes. Two Ashley Bray 3-pointers and a Carr 3-pointer put DWU up 13-8 early. DWU would hit five 3-pointers to lead 21-14 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, DWU took its first double-digit lead at 30-19 at the 6:31-mark. A Nagel 3-pointer and back-to-back field goals by Cheeseman put the Tigers up 37-19. The Bulldogs went more than 9 minutes without a field goal as DWU closed the first half on a 17-0 run to lead 40-19 at halftime.

“We got every loose ball,” Nagel said. “We knew we had to switch up on the shooters and rebound. That’s what we did.”

The 21-point lead ballooned to 30 points in the third quarter. Mathews sunk back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the third quarter and Cheeseman scored seven of the Tigers’ last eight points to put DWU up 63-37 heading into the final frame.  

Concordia couldn’t get back into the contest as the Tigers cruised to the victory in the fourth quarter. For the Bulldogs, Philly Lammers finished with 23 points, while Taylor Cockerill provided 17 points off the bench and Dani Hoppes added 12 points. The Bulldogs were held to 35 percent shooting (20-of-57) and lost the rebounding battle 41-30.

“We didn’t do anything special, we just got after them,” Christensen said. “It was just grit and determination.”

NOTES: DWU’s 32 wins tie a program-best, matching the mark set by the 2001-02 team. That team went 32-6 and reached the semifinals. … The Tigers set school season records for 3-pointers made (303) and total assists (743). … South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Sen. John Thune were among the state’s dignitaries to tweet congratulations following the Tiger win. … A welcome home celebration time has not been set. DWU officials said an event will likely be held later in the week.