Coach Nancy Fahey and her Bears celebrate in Bloomington, Ill., March 20 after winning the program's fifth national title.
After nine years, nine consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and two setbacks in the national championship game, Washington University in St. Louis returned to the pinnacle of NCAA Division III women's basketball, capturing the program’s fifth national championship with a 65-59 victory over Hope College March 20 in Bloomington, Ill.
To advance to the title game, the Bears secured a nail-biting 86-75 overtime victory over previously unbeaten and top-ranked Amherst College in the national semifinal March 19. WUSTL erased a 12-point deficit with under 10 minutes to play to force overtime, then took command in the OT period.
Washington University has now won a Division III-record five national women's basketball championships, including a string of four straight titles from 1998-2001. WUSTL, appearing in its Division III-record 21st NCAA tournament and record ninth Final Four, also advanced to the NCAA title game in 2007 and ’09.
Zoe Unruh holds the NCAA championship trophy aloft for her teammates.
“Once you are fortunate enough to experience a championship, and then to wait nine years for another, you realize how hard, how special, how much you have to have a little luck, how fortunate you are to have that magical chemistry,” coach Nancy Fahey said. “You realize how special this is, and that is the difference this year, realizing how much things have to come together.”
Graduate student Jaimie McFarlin and senior Zoë Unruh were both named to the championship all-tournament team, with McFarlin claiming NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player accolades.
McFarlin scored 14 points with a season-high 15 rebounds in the championship game, while Unruh tallied 13 points. McFarlin earned all-tournament honors for the third time in her career, tying WUSTL Sports Hall of Famers Alia Fischer and Tasha Rodgers for the most Final Four honors in school history.
“When the confetti started falling — and it was real confetti and not the stuff in my dreams — that was when I realized we had really won,” McFarlin said. “This is how you dream, to get to the goals that you set.
"It feels so good,” McFarlin said.
While McFarlin and Unruh earned tournament honors, it was junior guard Alex Hoover who led the team in scoring in the national championship game. Hoover poured in a career-high 18 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. She was clutch down the stretch, scoring 14 of her points in the second half and shooting 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
The Bears celebrate at midcourt after winning the title.
“They are a very high pressure team, so we were trying to be patient on offense and stay calm and composed with their high pressure,” Hoover said. “We ran our offense well, we had a lot of pressure releases that helped, and basically running the offense is what helped me today.”
With 15 rebounds, McFarlin eclipsed 1,000 career rebounds and ends her WUSTL basketball career as all-time rebounding leader with 1,013. She finished the NCAA tournament averaging a double-double with 11.8 points and 11 rebounds per game and posted a double-double in the semifinal and final game, increasing her season tally to eight.
Unruh averaged a team-high 17.3 points per game during the postseason run and, on March 20, passed Hallie Hutchens (2001-05) for ninth-place in scoring in school history. She ends her career with 1,096 points, also ranking fourth in school history with 128 3-point field goals.
The women's basketball team increased its NCAA Division III postseason record win total to 55, posting a 55-18 overall record in 22 appearances in the NCAA tournament. WUSTL is now 5-3 all-time in the NCAA championship game. In 11 of the past 13 seasons, the Bears have either won the national championship or been eliminated by the eventual national champion.
Washington University athletic teams have now won 18 team national championships — five over the past three years and now two this academic year, including women's volleyball Nov. 21, 2009.