Champion Christian, Ellison do it again as national champs
DeAnthony Ellison did it again March 11, winning his second NCCAA Division II national championship in three seasons as head coach of the Champion Christian Tigers women’s basketball team.
“It feels really good,” Ellison said. “The big breaking point moment was when we were down by two. Senior center Kamryn Gentry got a rebound and outlet to our point guard. She ran and shot a deep three in the corner to put us up by one. At that moment where I felt the swing and us going up and them kind of going down.”
Champion Christian assistant coach Amalia Harris said it felt amazing to win the title.
“Coach Dee is what brought me here,” Harris said. “I was used to working with a few of his players because I actually assisted at Ozark Christian at first. He is loving and caring. He is a great guy to be around.”
Champion Christian went on an 8-2 run and never gave the lead back to the Patriots. To kick things off in tournament play, Champion Christian faced the Tigers of Campbellsville University-Harrodsburg in an overtime grudge match. Champion Christian won 97-92.
“It was a team effort,” senior guard Aaliyiah Clark said. “I think that defense was a big part. We got a big rebound. I got the rebound and went coast-tocoast against Campbellsville and I think after that moment we knew we would win.”
Ellison said he is still trying to figure out the Campbellsville game.
“Campbellsville came in as a No. 8 seed, which we feel like they were not really a No. 8 seed,” he said. “They had the leading scorer in the nation on their team who averaged 29 points per game. Our two bigs fouled out going into overtime. We found a way to grit-up and ended pulling out the win in overtime.”
Senior Tori Hayes is from Perryville, and she had 13 points in the championship game.
“Tori had a few spectacular moments,” Ellison said. “In the first game she had 33 points. That was huge for us on opening night.”
Hayes helped the Tigers to a national title.
“I have never felt like this before,” Hayes said. “It just feels amazing. I am on top of the world. My role was to really be a leader as a senior. This was my last game forever.”
No. 4 seeded Pensacola Christian would be next up for the Tigers, and things were falling into place as Champion Christian bested the Eagles by 30 points with a 90-60 final score to punch the team’s ticket to the final game.
“I think it was long overdue,” Harris said. “I think once we knew we beat Campbellsville in overtime we already had the guts, belief, confidence and that is something that me and coach Dee love to instill in our girls. Once they saw buckets going in against Pensacola, you cannot stop them once they see that.”
Champion defeated Arlington Baptist 78-73 in the title game. Champion Christian went 4-0 against Arlington Baptist this season, and games against Arlington Baptist are regarded as big time rivalry contests in conference play.
“Championship game as a coach you put together a game plan,” Ellison said. “You want to execute that game plan. The first half we didn’t really execute it. We were down 11 at halftime, but I knew if we got back to execution we would be fine with the outcome we wanted. We finally executed and we had a huge third quarter. We had some big plays by everybody that was on the court. We ended pulling off and winning.”
Arlington Baptist is a fivetime NCCAA DII national champion.
“At halftime I actually told them did you forget the game plan,” Ellison said. “We kind of went away from the game plan. Championship game I know there was nerves and everybody was anxious. Once we settled down, calmed down and got to the actual game plan, that is
when we executed.”
Harris did not hold back at halftime.
“At halftime to be honest I told them their defense basically sucked,” Harris said. “I think highly of them and so I just told them that, ‘You are better than that. I believe in you. Let me see what you have, show us what you have been showing us all year.’”
Champion Christian ran the man-to-man defense and switched to the 2-3 zone as the game progressed.
“We took a pretty good lead,” Ellison said. “We kind of seesawed back and forth, then we were able to come out on top. The man defense was not working like we wanted it to so we switched to the 2-3 zone to make them shoot shots and clog the middle some. That is when we started making our run.”
Champion Christian made its living with 3-point shots on offense.
“We shoot a lot of shots,” Ellison said. “We shoot a lot of threes actually. When we are on it looks good, but when we are not on it can slow us down some. We have two dominant posts on the inside that makes other teams double team. Then we can look for the kick out and play inside out and we are able to knock down shots.”
Gentry was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Gentry snagged 19 rebounds and 15 points for a double-double in the championship game.
“Gentry is a special player,” Ellison said. “She has a knack for rebounding. I think she averaged 19.5 rebounds this year. Most people don’t average that in points. To average that with rebounding and to be a passfirst post player is huge when you have shooters around you.”
Gentry said the game was rough.
“There were a lot of fouls,” she said. “There were a lot of calls not really going our way. It was rough, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You do not want to have an easy game, but you do not want to lose.”
The starting five players for Champion Christian were all transfers. However, Ellison said he wants freshmen to grow and build his program throughout four years.
“I wouldn’t say there was just necessarily just major dominance by certain people,” Ellison said. “I think there were just huge moments by certain people throughout the game, which made it special.”
Justys Irish-Holmes talked about the intensity of the matchup.
“We knew they were going to come at us with a run,” Irish-Holmes said. “We knew they were going to fight. I mean when you play somebody four times you know they are going to want to beat you.”
Recruiting is huge when a team has won multiple national championships.
“Everyone wants to be national champs,” Ellison said. “That’s huge and you get people that are coming just to be a national champ. We are trying to get away from that. We want people to buy into the culture and come to the school for the school. Basketball is just a cherry on top.”
Ellison said his team is looking to repeat next season.
“First off all the praise goes to God,” Ellison said. “Without him none of us would be in the situation. As far as the program, just having the kids buy in and believing in what me and the assistant coach had out together for them and knowing that we actually care about them outside of the court. Obviously on the court we love them and coach them hard, but off the court is where we kind of hang our hat. We want to see them succeed after basketball.”