They did it for Shanice.
That was the mantra for BR-9 California (Pa.) when the Vulcans beat a BR-40 Gannon team to whom they lost seven straight games to before snapping the string in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference quarterfinals.
That was the mantra when the Vulcans won their first PSAC tournament title in nine years after beating BR-32 West Chester … and after holding off BR-16 Bloomsburg for the Atlantic Regional championship at Hamer Hall … and after wins in Sioux Falls, S.D. over BR-15 Nova Southeastern and BR-1 Emporia State.
Carrying the memory of Shanice Clark, the senior reserve forward who passed away on Jan. 18, the Vulcans captured their second national D2 Women’s Basketball championship in school history with an 86-69 win over BR-38 California Baptist inside the Sanford Pentagon Friday night.
Cal Baptist completed their second full year as a D2 member and became the first Pacific West Conference team to advance to the women’s national championship game and had become the Cinderella story of the tourney, defeating BR-18 New Haven and BR-8 Limestone to reach the title game.
The Lancers, however, couldn’t overcome the memory of a fallen teammate.
Cal U’s modus operandi in most of their 32 wins this season had been to go on a significant rally at some point during a game and play lockdown defense to win games. While that had been missing after back-and-forth slugfests in their previous three games in the NCAA tournament, the “Vulcan Formula” was in full effect after the Lancers’ opening run.
Yet, out of all the decisive runs from Cal U this season, Friday night’s run might have been the biggest of them all.
After Cal U’s Miki Glenn scored the opening basket of the game, the Lancers scored 11 straight points to take an 11-2 with 17:18 left in the first half. It didn’t take long for the Vulcans to answer and emphatically.
Cal U went on a 21-0 run to take a 23-11 lead with 11:46 left in the first half. Most Outstanding Player Kaitlynn Fratz converted an old-school three with 14:24 left in the half to give the Vulcans the lead for good in the course of that run.
During that run, the Vulcans shot 10-for-13 from the field and only committed one turnover; the Lancers went ice cold, missing seven straight shots and turning the ball over six times.
Cal U continued to expand the lead through the rest of the first half, taking a 48-28 lead at the break. During the first half, the Vulcans shot 20-for-37 from the field while holding Cal Baptist to 10-for-35 shooting.
Cal Baptist, however, would not go down without a fight.
After an Emma Mahady jumper made it 53-34 with 17:44 left, the Lancers took a page out of the Vulcans playbook, going on a 15-4 run over the next five minutes to cut the lead to 57-49 with 12:42 left. Cal Baptist hit 6-of-11 shots while the Vulcans went ice cold, shooting just 2-for-9 during the Lancers’ run.
The clock would strike midnight for the Cinderella Lancers when Glenn, who earned MVP honors in both the PSAC and Atlantic Region tourneys, stopped the bleeding with a jumper with 12:26 left. Barrett and Mahady added jumpers of their own as the Vulcans expanded their lead to 63-49 with 10:25 left. Cal U kept the lead in double digits for the rest of the game.
With the game well in hand, it was fitting that sophomore Precious Martin, who wore Clark’s jersey number – 44 – since her best friend’s death, ended entered the game with 40.7 seconds left so she could be on the court when the final buzzer sounded.
It was also fitting that senior Irina Kukolj, one of two Vulcans who had been with the program since Jess Strom was promoted to head coach on Dec. 9, 2011, scooped up the last rebound of the season and controlled the ball as time expired.
And, it was also fitting that Mahady, who was also on the roster when Strom became head coach, capped her career with a national title. was named to the all-tournament team. The senior from Australia finished with 19 points.
Glenn finished with a game-high 31 points and joined Fratz and Mahady on the all-tournament team. Darsha Burnside finished with 27 points for Cal Baptist, while Courtney Nelson added 15; both Lancers were also named to the all-tournament team.
Few outside of the Vulcans locker room could’ve predicted that Strom, who replaced Mark Swasey as head coach, would build a national champion in the 1,205 days since the former Penn State Lady Lion standout and Munhall, Pa. native’s first game as head coach, an 89-67 win at Kutztown.
Eighty-six wins later, Strom can now add championship coach to her resume.
As the Vulcans received their national championship trophy, they ran to center court, raising four fingers in the air and chanted “Shanice! Shanice! Shanice!”
Just as they had with every win over the 68 days since Shanice Clark passed away … the California University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team “won it for Shanice.”