(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – Jennies basketball captured the NCAA National Championship for the first time since 1984 over top-ranked Ashland Eagles Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In a shocking 66-52 victory, the Jens stymied Ashland’s high powered offense that averaged nearly 100 points a game. The Eagles came into the game having won 73 straight contests dating back to 2016 and were favorites to win their second straight championship. Ashland scores most of their points in transition and fuels their offense by forcing an average of 27 turnovers per game with their overwhelming full-court press.
The strengths of the Eagles were on full display in the opening minutes as they smothered the Jens to take a 16-6 lead on perfect 7-7 shooting. It appeared everything that could go wrong was going wrong and it would take a strong effort to turn the tables.
Following a timeout, the Jens went to work cutting into the lead. A 9-0 run fueled by junior guard Paige Redmond and junior forward Jolene Shipps would make it a one-point game. Ashland would get back on track and end the quarter up 20-15.
The Jennies were able to control the tempo in the second quarter and Ashland lost the touch they were putting on their shots when they started 7-7. Senior forward Kayonna Lee made a superb defensive play to force a turnover, then caught the Eagles sleeping in transition to cut the lead to one. After another stop by Lee, Redmond slashed through the Eagles defense to give the Jennies their first lead of the game.
“Kay was wonderful tonight, she got every big rebound like she’s done all season,” head coach Dave Slifer said.
The Eagles went ice cold with only one made basket in the first five minutes of the quarter. Lee continued to make an impact with a layup on a quick pass by Megan Skaggs and the score was 27-22 Jennies. Central Missouri outscored Ashland 20-11 in the second quarter to take a 35-31 lead into halftime.
The third quarter was tightly contested, and Ashland pulled within two points with two minutes left on a pair of free throws. Redmond would nail another three to give the Jens a 49-44 lead going into the fourth.
The fourth was all about defense for the Jennies, Ashland was unable to score for over three minutes after the quarter began. The Eagles refused to go away pulling to within three points on multiple occasions.
Nearing the two-minute mark, the Eagles made it a one-possession game. Skaggs responded by rolling off seven straight points to put the Ashland away. The Jennies snapped a streak of historic proportions and held a team that averaged 100 points a game to nearly half of that.
Senior guard Kelsey Williams was instrumental in breaking Ashland’s full-court pressure acting as the primary ball handler.
“Our goal was to control the pace of play and Kelsey did a wonderful job of making sure there was low possessions,” Slifer said. “Defensively, I thought we were just outstanding.”
Williams played all 40 minutes and scored 11 points with five assists. Her performance earned her a spot on the All-Tournament Team in her final game with the Jennies.
“It’s something incredible. I feel like I left it all out there,” Williams said. “These last two years with these girls have been nothing but everything that I have ever dreamed of. Life couldn’t be better right now.”
Redmond finished with 22 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Redmond said the Jennies overcame adversity to claim the second national title and first 30-win season. The early exit in the conference tournament crushed their hopes of bringing the NCAA Tournament to Warrensburg. Instead of hanging their heads on the loss, they came back better than ever knowing they could run the table.
“After our first game of regionals is when I knew we were all in. We lost the first round of the conference tournament. I think we needed to,” Redmond said. “So that’s the best thing that happened to us all season.”