National championship weekend is a celebration of women’s basketball
ASHLAND — Ashland University’s fifth trip to the Division II women’s basketball national championship game is a special occasion all by itself.
But this year that game also will be part of a larger celebration of the women’s college game.
For only the second time in the 41-year history of NCAA women’s basketball, the Division II and III national championships will be decided at the Women’s Division I Final Four site. Both games will be Saturday, April 1 at American Airlines Center, home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
“I’m really excited to just see it, and be there and the locker room and all that stuff,” AU senior forward Annie Roshak said. “I know it will be really neat and I know Eagle Nation will show up and I’m excited for that.
“Just having everybody there together will be a really neat experience.”
The Division III championship game will tip at noon Eastern time on Saturday, followed by the Division II title game between the Eagles and Minnesota-Duluth at 3:30 p.m.
Before that, the Division I women’s Final Four semifinal games will be played at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday. The Division I national title game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
The women previously crowned three national champions in the same venue (Bankers Life Fieldhouse) in Indianapolis in 2016. That year, each divisional champion celebrated an undefeated season. UConn (38-0) claimed the Division I crown with an 82-51 win over Syracuse. Lubbock Christian (35-0) defeated Alaska Anchorage 78-73 for the Division II title, and Thomas More (33-0) defeated Tufts, 63-51 for the Division III title.
“While the basketball will be highly competitive and three champions crowned, this event is much more than games,” Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women’s basketball said in a news release. “We hope as many people as possible take advantage and experience all that is being offered during the week.”
With all those games in one location, and three national champions being crowned, free fan activities starting Thursday outside the venue should make for an unforgettable experience for everyone.
Events that will be part of championship week include Tourney Town, a site for entertainment, food, licensed merchandise, exhibits, games, interactive displays, talks, panels and guest speakers.
The NCAA Title IX 50th Anniversary Showcase is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX through a display of photos, trophies, videos, uniforms and other mementos that recognize and celebrate NCAA female student-athletes.
The exhibit includes women’s basketball artifacts from the NCAA, USA Basketball, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Women’s National Basketball Association and more.
“I think it’s really, really important to continue to celebrate everything that Title IX has provided and done for us,” AU coach Kari Pickens said. “I’m really thankful I grew up in a culture and a society where women’s sports have always been celebrated.
“From my experience, women have always been in positions of authority in my life, so that’s all I’ve known. I know it wasn’t that many years ago that that wasn’t the case.
“I’m really thankful that the NCAA is willing to invest in a great experience that really highlights and celebrates how far we’ve come and all the work we’ve still got yet to do.”
Party on the Plaza outside the arena all four days will feature photo opportunities, food and beverages, and red-carpet arrivals for all six teams competing in the three championship games.
Fans will have the opportunity to cheer on their favorites as they arrive and enter the American Airlines Center, with the Eagles scheduled to walk the red carpet at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Topping off Saturday’s two championship games will be the free Super Saturday Concert at 8 p.m. with Saweetie as the headliner music performer.
For the Eagles, who are flying out Wednesday morning, there will be a banquet for the Division II and III players and coaches on Wednesday evening.
Thursday will bring interviews and photoshoots with CBS, the network that will air the Division II and III championship games.
AU will practice at the American Airlines Center on Thursday, have an off-site practice on Friday, then attend the Division I semifinal games.
“The NCAA is (providing) a suite for us to be at the Final Four games, which is really cool,” Pickens said. “Our hotel, they have an entire conference room with a lounge room for our girls. There’s just a bunch of stuff that goes with it.”
Fifth-year guard Maddie Maloney is eager to share the entire experience with her teammates and her family, but has an even more practical reason for being excited about the national championship trip.
“I’m ready for some sunshine and some warm weather,” she said with a laugh.
“And I’m just really excited to go down there and for people to experience the joy that we have and the love that we have for each other. If you love women’s college basketball, this is going to be the place to be this weekend.”
With all the hoopla, excitement and just plain fun the weekend promises, the Eagles certainly haven’t lost sight of the real reason for being in Dallas.
“It is a business trip, 100 percent,” junior guard Savaya Brockington said. “We’re enjoying the ride and soaking it all in but knowing that we’re down there for a reason and that’s to win a national championship.
“Each step of the way during the NCAA tournament they do some fun things for us but we’re staying focused and keeping our eyes on the prize.”
This article originally appeared on Ashland Times Gazette: National championship weekend is a celebration of women’s basketball