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Grace pens perfect ending as NCCAA national champions

A sweeter script could not have been penned than the one that played out on the hardwood of the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on Saturday evening.

Grace’s women’s basketball team capped off a thrilling season by being crowned as the 2024 NCCAA national champions.

Grace topped Carolina 65-51 in the championship game that was played in front of a raucous crowd that spilled onto the floor at the final buzzer to celebrate the Lancers’ historic championship victory.

“I am just so overcome with emotion for what this moment represents,” said Grace head Coach Dan Davis following the victory. “So many men and women have come before me to help lay the foundation for what was accomplished today. I could not be more thankful to President Flamm, former President Katip and Athletic Director Chad Briscoe for allowing me to lead this program.”

The Lancers’ national title was the first in program history. The championship was poetic as the final game of Grace’s 15-year run hosting the NCCAA National Championships. Grace has hosted the tournament since 2009, and the Lancers cut down their home nets for the first time as national champions on Saturday night.

Grace, who was coming off a dramatic, buzzer-beating victory in the semifinals, showed no signs of an emotional let down early in the championship bout.

Through the first 6:04 of the game saw Grace go on a 15-3 run. The opening burst saw five different players score for Grace, including six points from Maddie Ryman.

Carolina’s offense was suffocated by Grace’s tenacious defensive effort and committed six turnovers in the first quarter.

The Bruins did find some offensive consistency late in the opening frame and managed to cut the deficit in half, but the Lancers still carried a 17-11 lead into the quarter break.

In the second quarter Grace took complete control of the game behind a dominant defensive effort. The Lancers held the Bruins to just five points in the second frame.

Lancers defensive prowess forced Carolina into three consecutive turnovers and each time Ryman converted them into fast-break scores which helped re-establish the 12-point lead.

Kensie Ryman and Bekah Marshall each made good on trips to the charity stripe and Kate Rulli ended the half with three consecutive free throws to grow the lead to 37-16 entering the halftime break.

Through two quarters of play the Bruins had 16 points compared to 19 turnovers.

With their backs firmly against the wall entering the second half, Carolina came out of the locker room with a flurry.

The Bruins used an opening possession trifecta to swing momentum in their favor and managed to whittle what was a 21-point lead, down to 10 points by the middle of the quarter.

Peyton Murphy scored on a tough drive to the net which put an end to a run that saw the Lancers outscore by a mark of 15-4.

Morganne Houk had a 3-point shot that pushed Grace’s lead back up to 14 points and the Lancers held a 50-36 lead entering quarter No. 4.

Rulli had a score inside to start the fourth stanza that saw the Lancers lead reach 16, but Carolina had one last run in them. In just a matter of minutes the Bruins trimmed the deficit down to single digits.

In desperate need of a stop it was Marshall who came up with a key defensive steal that Patton finished on the other end with an old-fashioned 3-point play.

Grace’s and-1 score seemed to break Carolina’s spirit as the Lancers bolstered the lead over the final minutes.

At the final horn it was Lancers who were the national champions by a score of 65-51.

“These ladies showed so much grit and determination this week,” Davis said. “They have stayed the course over the past 12 months and they truly invested and loved each other and they saw the result of the commitment today.”

Grace finished the shooting 39 percent from the floor while holding Carolina to 37 percent. The Lancers forced the Bruins into 30 turnovers while committing just 15 themselves.

Ryman finished with 20 points and Houk added 12 of her own. Murphy narrowly missed a double double with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Murphy was named to the all tournament team and Ryman was named the tournament MVP.

Saturday’s contest also marked the end of the decorated careers of seniors Patton and Ryman.

“We could not have sent these two players off in a better fashion,” Davis said of Ryman and Patton. “For two of this program’s all time greats to go out this way on their home court was incredible.”

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