The Eagles are national champions for the third time in program history

An undefeated, 37-0 season, capped off with a title on the grandest stage


Brynn Meisse

The Eagles win the national championship in the 2022-23 season.

Cade Cracas, Sports & Digital Editor

For the third time in program history, the Ashland University women’s basketball team has won the national championship.

After receiving preseason praise, they now receive postseason gratification by downing the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, 78-67 in the title game on Saturday, April 1.

“I genuinely believe this team was hand-picked,” said Eagle Head Coach Kari Pickens. “We could not have done it without the selflessness of each and every person.”

The Eagles started the contest against the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs with small struggles offensively. They turned the ball over three times throughout the first four minutes and recorded just five points.

Fortunately for them, the Eagles’ defense forced similar, if not the same issues for the Bulldogs.

With just two minutes left in the first quarter, the score remained at single digits as the two sides were tied up at nine a piece. Within the last two minutes though, both teams added on seven points in total as the Eagles led 14-11 after the first 10 minutes.

Heading into the second quarter, both teams needed to adjust offensively.

The Eagles were able to make changes to their flow and started to find a rhythm. In the first quarter, the team focused on perimeter ball movement but in the second they decided to utilize their paint presence to separate themselves from the Bulldogs.

Forwards Annie Roshak, Hayley Smith and Zoe Miller added 19 of the Eagles’ 26 second-quarter points. While the offense thrived, their defense did so too as they held the Bulldogs to just 11 points.

“This was one of the first games all year we didn’t get doubled, or tripled inside,” Roshak said. “We got a lot of inside touches and we pushed the ball well.

Heading into halftime, the Eagles led by 18, 40-22.

At the break, the Eagles shot a stellar 54% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc while adding on 9-of-11 from the charity stripe. In comparison, the defense held the Bulldogs to just 29% from the field and 0% from beyond the arc.

“Their offensive efficiency is just absolutely incredible,” said Bulldog Head Coach Mandy Pearson. “You have to make them uncomfortable and I don’t know if we did that in the first half.”

To start the final stretch of the game the Eagles continued where they left off as Smith and Roshak opened up the third quarter with back-to-back baskets. Alongside Smith and Roshak, in her final collegiate game, graduate guard Hallie Heidemann found her first points of the game with two big three-pointers.

The Eagles also were able to find their largest lead of the game in the third quarter as they pushed it to 21 at one point.

With the season on the line and ten minutes left in the game, the Eagles led 59-40, by 19 points.

Even though the lead was that large, the Bulldogs did not back down. The team was able to mount a massive 10-2 run through the first three minutes of the quarter, cutting the lead down to 11 points.

However, after starting hot they would slow down and hit a wall offensively over the course of the next three minutes scoring zero points. The Eagles would then combat that run the Bulldogs had with four points of their own, extending the lead back to 15.

“If you make one mistake, they make you pay,” Pearson said.

Alongside Pearson, who credited the Eagles with their high-intensity playstyle, Olson said the same.

“We were always just trying to play catch-up,” Olson said. “When they were getting the ball inside we had to dig down or turn away from their shooters and they were making threes.”

With the clock down to four, both squads ramped up their efforts as the Bulldogs would score 17 points, but allowed 12 from the Eagles. Every possible opportunity the Bulldogs had to cut the lead down at, the Eagles would have an answer for it.

Forward Brooke Olson was the sole strength for the Bulldogs as she posted 13 points, going 6-of-8 from the field. Alongside Olson, Maeyson Thiesen put together nine points while shooting 2-of-4 from beyond the arc.

For the Eagles, four points each from Savaya Brockington, Miller and Roshak helped keep the Bulldogs at bay.

Ultimately, the contest closed out with a 78-67 victory for the Eagles, their third since the 2012-13 season.

Led by Roshak and Miller, the Eagles shot 51% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc while holding the Bulldogs to just 38% and 21%.

The loss for the Bulldogs caps off a program-best run in March. This season was the first time that they competed in the Elite Eight and beyond while finishing the year off with a 32-4 overall record.

“You can’t even describe how great this season was,” said Pearson. “I think there were four seconds left, and that was the first time I had seen this team ever drop their shoulders. I’ve never been more proud of our leaders.”

Olson, one of the leaders on the team, finished the game with 26 points and seven rebounds while going 9-of-19 from the field.

“Olson is a heck of a player. We knew we needed to double her, and we were going to let them shoot from three so that we could focus on her more,” said Pickens. “She is a very very good player, but I was very proud of how the team executed against her.”

The Eagles had incredible performances from the forwards who worked hard down in the paint. Roshak scored 20 points, Miller finished with 16 and Smith ended with 10.

“Annie is a remarkable player. She’s on a team where we asked her to score 14 points per game, and she did so,” said Pickens. “Today, she took six shots and had 20 points. It’s a testament to show that she was going to do whatever was needed to win.”

Pickens now becomes the only NCAA Division II women’s basketball coach to win a national title as a head coach, assistant coach and player. Through her long tenure with the AU program, she’s been a part of two 37-0 seasons, one of which being this season.

“My three seniors led the way all year,” said Pickens. “All the credit to our seniors, Maddie Maloney, Sam Chable and Hallie Heidemann. They keep the locker room intact.”

The team now looks to grow their win streak in the 2023-24 season, but for now, they bask in the glory of a national championship.