After all that, they hugged their sisters.
After the marathon that was the months between that first scrimmage in October and this Division II national championship game. After the war that was their semifinal matchup with then-undefeated Drury. After the back-and-forth, grinding title-game with Southwestern Oklahoma State, a game the Bulldogs thought was theirs at one point before Maddi Chitsey tied the score with a 3 with three seconds left in the first overtime, a game that needed two overtimes before a champion could be crowned.
After all that, Maddi hugged her sister Bobbi, Olivia Robertson hugged her sister Juliana, Caitlyn Cunyus hugged her sister Channing. Lubbock Christian Chaparral hugged Lubbock Christian Chaparral. LCU had just won its second-ever national title by defeating SWOSU, 95-85, in the first ever DII title game to go to double-overtime.
“It’s just so much different when your blood is next to you, sweat the sweat and just bled next to you all year,” Caitlyn Cunyus said. “It’s just so different, especially because not only are our sisters there but we’re also, as sisters, so close with each other. I don’t know. It’s just kind of crazy. I don’t know. It’s pretty unexplainable.”
Lubbock Chrisitan Coach Steve Gomez didn’t think his Chaps were ready to win a national title when they lost to the Bulldogs, 77-75, back in December. He knew Southwestern Oklahoma State could. He told SWOSU coach Kelsi Musick and her Bulldogs as much after that game. But his team still had so much room to grow, and he’s proud of how tough his team was battling through the adversity they endured to realize their potential and win it all.
“Just don’t wake me up,” Gomez said. “I don’t know if this is actually real, what this team did.”
Gomez understands how much a bounce here, a bounce there, a 3 hitting, a 3 missing, can determine who is able to hoist a trophy and who has to suffer the pain of defeat. He gets how this game can drive people crazy. It’s not lost on him how close Southwestern Oklahoma State was to winning its first national title.
Lubbock Christian (32-5) trailed by seven points at halftime. It watched SWOSU miss a 3 with seconds left in regulation that would have won the game. It missed a game-tying 3 with eight seconds left in the first overtime period.
But that missed 3 from Olivia Robertson, on a play Gomez stole from Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens the Chaps had never run before, fell into the hands of LCU’s Allie Schulte. Schulte got the ball to Maddi Chitsey. Chitsey nailed a 3. And the Chaps out-scored the Bulldogs (35-2) by 10 in the second overtime.
“I didn’t think it was going in,” said SWOSU’s Hailey Tucker, thinking back to Robertson’s shot. “I was right underneath the basket. I thought it was going to be short and it ended up getting over it.”
“Right there at the end of that first overtime I, you know, for a split second, I thought we had it,” Musick said. “We were right there. It was within reach. It was in our hands. You could touch it and feel it but at the end of the day we just weren’t able to finish.”
Musick knew her team would bounce back from its slow start in the first quarter because it’s something SWOSU had been able to do all year. That’s why she told them during the first media timeout, the Chaps up 10-0 with 5:50 left in the first quarter, to just settle down, relax and stick to the game plan.
But that rebound Schulte grabbed, that 3 that Chitsey hit.
“It kind of took the air out of us and we just didn’t regain our poise,” Musick said.
The Bulldogs are grateful for how far their season went. They’re grateful for the fans who supported them along the way and the many who traveled to Alumni Hall on Friday to watch them play the Chaps who made this championship game feel similar to a home game. The loss is just going to sting for a while.
Bethany Franks, who scored 25 points for SWOSU, said it will fuel her during offseason workouts.
“We’re from the best university in the world,” Tucker said. “The support for us is unreal.”
Tucker finished with a game-high 30 points and 16 rebounds. Her double-double led the Bulldogs, who shot 33.3 percent from the field and 31.6 percent on 3s but also hit 17-of-19 free-throw attempts and scored 26 points off 18 LCU turnovers.
Robertson led Lubbock Christian with 24 points. Chitsey recorded a double-double of her own with 22 points and 13 rebounds. The Chaps shot 51.4 percent from the field and 37.5 percent on 3s, hit 14-of-20 free throws and won the rebounding battle 48-45.
Tucker, Franks, Chitsey and Robertson all made the all-tournament team alongside Drury’s Daejah Bernard. Roberston was named the Most Outstanding Player. And if you ask the tournament’s top star if she ever doubted her Chaps would win, she’s quick to say she didn’t.
“I don’t ever think that way,” Robertson said. “Something in my heart was telling me that this was our game and it was our time. Even if it’s not a big game my head doesn’t go to, ‘Oh no.’ It goes to, ‘Let’s do this thing.’”
Robertson, who with Bobbi Chitsey was a member of LCU’s 2016 national championship team, wanted to win and win in a way that was an example to the players younger than her. She wanted to be the person for her teammates the veterans of the 2016 were for her.
And not only did she do that, but when the clock ran out she was able to share that moment with her sister.
The Elite Eight, from start to finish
The DII Women's Elite Eight has come and gone at Alumni Hall in Columbus, Ohio, and this was your spot for the bracket, streaming information, scores, and live updates and analysis from the opening tip to the final whistle.
Sixty-four teams entered the DII women's basketball championship, eight made it to the Elite Eight, four the semifinals and two the championship game. Indiana (Pa.) started things off in the quarterfinals with a 73-60 win against Azusa Pacific that featured runs from both sides that showed the ending was never a foregone conclusion. Southwestern Oklahoma State earned a 71-61 win during a back-and-forth game against Saint Anselm. Drury coasted to the semifinals with a 91-60 win against Nova Southeastern. And Lubbock Christian beat North Georgia by 45, 99-54, to advance.
During the semifinals, No. 2 Southwestern Oklahoma State pulled off a 66-57 win against No. 3 Indiana (Pa.) and No. 5 Lubbock Christian upset No. 1 Drury, ending the Panthers' undefeated season, 69-60.
Lubbock Christian then beat Southwestern Oklahoma State, 95-85, in a double-overtime national title game. How did it all go down? Check out the live updates below.