To be the only school in the state of Kentucky to win a national championship in a women’s sport, twice, is pretty amazing.
For the second time in Northern Kentucky University history Women’s Basketball team won the National Championship game in Division II, knocking off South Dakota 63-58, March 29 in Kearney, Neb.
The game, nationally televised on ESPN 2, saw the Norse come-from-behind to pull off the upset and be crowned the “Queens of Division II,” snapping South Dakota’s 31-game winning streak, according to NKU Sports Information.
Those unable to attend the game in Kearney, Neb., could watch it from home, giving NKU the ability to gain national exposure.
“It was nice because our family and those, wherever they were, to catch the game,” senior point guard Nicole Chiodi said.
Senior Angela Healy and junior forward Cassie Brannen led NKU’s comeback in the second half of the game.
Healy scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Brannen got 15 of her 18 points in the second half.
Healy was also named the NCAA Division II Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“Winning the region was the goal we talked about the most, but our goal was also not to let (the season) end,” Healy told NKU Sports Information, “I know Nicole (Chiodi), a co-captain and a senior, and I were always wanting to win the national championship. What senior doesn’t? It was in the back of our minds. Today (March 29) was the end, but what a nice ending.”
South Dakota (33-2) and the Norse (28-8) played evenly and the Coyotes had the lead 26-23, going into the half.
The Norse struggled into the beginning stages of the second half, falling behind the Coyotes 38-26 with 14:58 remaining in the game.
“We kept believing, even when we were down 12 points in the second half,” Winstel told NKU Sports Information. “Our entire defensive plan was to switch high, and not let them drive and pitch on us. We did a pretty good job of knowing who their 3-point shooters were and guarded them very well. We wanted to stay home on their shooters and not help, and we are long enough defensively to do that.”
NKU began pulling the lead closer, but with 5:52 remaining, the Norse were still down by nine points, and the advantage looked to be going to South Dakota.
That was when Brannen stepped up and took the game into her own hands, scoring nine points in the 14-3 run by the Norse to take a 54-52 lead with 2:08 remaining.
The key to the run was NKU getting to the free-throw line in the second half, going 19-of-23 from the charity stripe. The Norse also out-rebounded the Coyotes by a 43-36 advantage.
For seniors Healy and Chiodi, it was the exclamation point to finish their careers at NKU.
“It was awesome,” Chiodi said. “I never really felt it until the game was over, that we had won the title.”
The feeling was equally special for Healy. “Winning the national championship in my last game is a dream come true. Healy said. “It’s really rewarding and I feel so blessed to have finished this way.”
At the end of the game, the two seniors joined at mid-court to celebrate the victory.
“We have been together for all four years and being with that person (Healy) and to celebrate the championship, I would not want to celebrate it with anyone else,” Chiodi said.
Healy finishes her career with 1,262 points, which is 15th on the all-time list in NKU history, according to NKU Sports Information.
Chiodi set a new record for minutes played in a season, with 1,286.
The championship marked the 10th win out of the last 11 games for the Norse. The lone loss came in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship game against Drury 71-67 March 9. The Norse defeated Drury in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, March 19 84-65 to advance to the Sweet 16.
“To be the only school in the state of Kentucky to win a national championship in a women’s sport, and now two of them, is pretty amazing,” Wisntel told NKU Sports Information.
“These young ladies will remember this for the rest of their lives. We didn’t even know if we would make the tournament three weeks ago,” Winstel said, “this is a remarkable accomplishment.”
With two titles at NKU, Winstel still feels as though it is a dream.
“I want to coach at the highest level and for the players to play at the highest level,” Winstel said. “I sometimes want to pinch myself, to know that we have won. To win one title was great, but to win two is just unbelievable.”
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