FHU Lady Lions Win 2018 NAIA Women's Basketball National Championship

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Freed-Hardeman University Lady Lions claimed their first NAIA championship Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Billings, Montana. The team clinched its first title after 21 previous appearances at the tournament.

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It feels great for me personally, but more importantly, it is great for all of the girls on our team. To send our four seniors out like this is just awesome. I told the girls I think I might cry. It is a surreal and awesome feeling that is going to take a while to soak in.

The Freed-Hardeman University Lady Lion basketball team claimed its first-ever national championship with a 76-64 victory over Westmont (California) College Tuesday evening, March 20, 2018, in the NAIA Division 1 Women's Basketball National Championship at Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, Montana. It was the Lady Lions’ 22nd consecutive national tournament appearance.

Lady Lions’ Head Coach Dale Neal has been a part of all 22 of FHU’s national tournament appearances and was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame last week. “It feels great for me personally, but more importantly, it is great for all of the girls on our team,” he said. “To send our four seniors out like this is just awesome. I told the girls I think I might cry. It is a surreal and awesome feeling that is going to take a while to soak in."

FHU President David Shannon also expressed his excitement about the win. “What a great success for our Lady Lions, Coach Dale Neal and Freed-Hardeman University! Our Lady Lions had the poise of a champion throughout the series — showing athletic and mental strength. While we realize they will have more important accomplishments in life than this championship, we know this experience will provide a tremendous milestone and memory for them,” said Shannon, who flew to Billings for the championship game to lend his support to the Lady Lions.

“Coach Neal’s championship win after 21 previous appearances in the NAIA tournament is icing on the cake. Already the winningest active coach in the NAIA, this past week in Montana began with his induction in the NAIA Hall of Fame and ended with this incredible, much deserved achievement,” Shannon said.

A trio of players led the way for the Lady Lions. Kim Mallory, Sandrea Sylman and Carrie Hatchel combined for 69 of FHU's 76 points in the match-up. Sylman’s 24 points led the scoring with 7-for-14 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from behind the arc. The Chattanooga, Tennessee, native only got stronger as the game went on, as she fired in 17 of her 24 points in the second half. Mallory followed close behind with 23 points while Hatchel came off the bench to contribute a season-high 22 points on 6-for-7 shooting from three-point land to propel FHU to the victory.

The Lady Lions (34-4) shot an impressive 49 percent from the field and 62 percent from behind the arc compared to Westmont College (26-6), who shot 45 percent from the field and 33 percent of their three-pointers. FHU came out of the gate hot, as Mallory scored 11 of her 23 points in the first quarter to boost the attack. The bench, led by Hatchel, also took care of business in the first half, as she was a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc throughout the first two quarters, aiding the Lady Lions in maintaining the lead.

“Carrie came off the bench like she has done all season for us," Neal said. "We needed another shooter since they switched up defenses on us a lot and kept us off balance, but Carrie stepped up big time when we needed it.”

The momentum continued for the Lady Lions in the second half, courtesy of hot shooting by Sylman, who led FHU to their largest lead of the game at the, 65-50, with 5:50 remaining following a three-point field goal by the junior sharp shooter. The Warriors attempted a late comeback and pulled within five points at the 69-64 mark following back-to-back three-point field goals by Maud Ranger. However, the comeback would be short lived, as the Lady Lions closed the game on a 7-0 run to secure the 76-64 victory for the national title.

This was Freed-Hardeman’s second championship game in program history. The Lady Lions advanced to the championship game in 2014, losing to Oklahoma City, 80-76. The Lady Lions are now 39-21 all-time in NAIA tournament history.

Following the game, Mallory was named the 2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship’s Most Outstanding Player. The 2018 All-Tournament team also included Sylman on the first team and Hatchel on the second team. Neal was named the Coach of the Year.

Freed-Hardeman University competes in the American Midwest Conference. The university fields teams in men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, tennis, cross-country, golf, and outdoor track and field. Additional women’s sports are volleyball and softball. The university also offers baseball. Information about the teams, scholarships and FHU is available at gofhulions.com and fhu.edu.

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