The perfect end to a perfect season

Noah Cloonan

Bailey Kuhlwein flipped the ball into the air as time expired inside Alumni Hall, as the Eagles won their second National Championship Friday night.

It was a journey that began over 365 days ago, when the Eagles fell short in the 2016 tournament. The journey featured many amazing accomplishments but the one thing that it didn’t have was a single loss. Ashland completed the fourth undefeated season in Division II women’s basketball history, as they finished the season 37-0.

“What we talked about before the game was the reason we’re here is because of love,” head coach Robyn Fralick said. “This team has loved each other really well. They’ve loved committing to something bigger than themselves, and there’s just so many things that aligned about them that were good. To experience this with this group, that has done so many things right, just makes it really, really rewarding.” 

The Eagles were victorious in front of over 2,000 of their fans in Columbus, Ohio against Virginia Union University. AU did so in style coming away with a 93-77 win.

Ashland stayed true to their Elite Eight form by allowing the Panthers to get on the board first. But as was the case in the first two games, the Eagles quickly responded with a Laina Snyder layup to tie the game at 2s. Andi Daugherty and Kelsey Peare got on the board on back-to-back possession to put the Eagles on top 6-3 early on in the first. 

VUU stormed back to take a 9-8 lead with 6:13 remaining in the first quarter. With three and a half minutes left to play, Snyder hit a jump shot to put the Eagles up 14-11, but a 5-0 run put Virginia Union back on top 16-14.

AU closed out the first quarter on a 10-4 run highlighted by threes from Peare and Jodi Johnson to make the score 24-20 at the end of one.

In the second, the Panthers came out with new energy scoring the first seven points of the frame and grabbing a 27-24 lead. Johnson, a freshman, knotted the game back up at 27 with a three from the right corner. Johnson finished with a team high of 19 points. 

AU went on their second big run of the day as they grabbed a 38-33 lead thanks to a 9-2 run on three triples for the Eagles. But the Eagles could not pull away as Alexis Johnson hit back-to-back layups to cut the lead to one. Alexis Johnson had a game high of 28 points as well as nine rebounds.

Ashland started to pull away down the stretch in the first half but once again Virginia Union would not go away easy as Lady Walker got inside and converted on a layup with ten seconds left to cut the lead to 47-42 in favor of Ashland. Walker finished with the 51st double-double of her career scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 boards.

The teams came out of the locker room cold as each team missed three shot attempts of the second half. Alexis Johnson got things going for the Panthers as she cut the lead to 47-44 and two possessions later was able to get inside again and cut the Eagle lead to just one, 49-48. Peare, one of three seniors on the team, gave the Eagles some breathing room after knocking down her second three of the day to give the Eagles a four point lead. Once again Ashland tried to pull away but Walker and Johnson kept the Panther’s hopes alive as they dropped in back-to-back layups to keep the Eagle lead at 54-52 with 5:07 left in the third.

After a Maddie Dackin three, with 4:52 left in the third the Eagles ended the quarter a perfect 9 of 9 from the free throw line to swell their lead to ten, 68-58, heading into the final quarter.

The Eagles were just ten minutes away from their second title in school history and they came out in the fourth quarter on a mission to cement their names in history. Senior Alex Henning opened the quarter with a reverse layup under the basket and with 8:22 left in the fourth, Jodi Johnson banked in a three from the left corner to put the Eagles up fifteen as they started to pull away.

Snyder, an All-American, had eight points in the Eagles knocked down nine free throws on their way to a 93-77 win over the No. 6 seeded Panthers. The Eagles had five players in double figures as Peare and Daugherty had 13 apiece, Dackin had her second straight 14 point effort and Snyder recorded 17 points in the win.

Ashland out rebounded Virginia Union 37-34. The Eagles shot 53.4% from the field and were 11-22 from behind the arc. AU was nearly perfect on the free throw line connecting on 20-22 attempts. The Panthers struggled from the line as they went 5-15 and shot 47.2% from the field. Ashland dominated in the Elite Eight winning all three games by double figures on their way to the program’s second National Championship. 

Alex Henning finishes her career losing just three games as the starting point guard for the Eagles.

With the 37 games this season, Kelsey Peare, broke the AU record for most career games played as the National Championship marked her 130th game in the purple and gold. 

And for senior Rachelle Morrison it was the perfect ending to her career as she was able to check into the game and play the final minutes for the Eagles.

“We have a senior our team, Rachelle Morrison, who isn’t in the recap story a lot or the boxscore, but this season, she was all-in, no matter what,” Fralick said. “Her leadership and her buy-in and her commitment and the way she communicates and held people accountable and put the team first, that’s why we’re here.”

Head coach Robyn Fralick finishes off one of the most historic seasons in NCAA history as she improves to 68-2 in her first two seasons as head coach.

The WBCA assistant coach of the year, Kari (Daugherty) Pickens, won her second national championship, but this time it was on the other side of the floor as a coach for the Eagles.

Ashland is the only team in Division II history to win 37 games while not losing a single one.