ASHLAND – The moment of the final buzzer, Amanda Brown was in the lobby of Kates Gymnasium printing T-shirts.
Student workers from the university book store formed an assembly line to crank out the custom purple T-shirts with WOMENS BASKETBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONS printed in large block letters.
The shirts went quickly amid a long line of fans formed minutes after Ashland University dismissed Minnesota Duluth 78-67 in the Division II national title game at Dallas, Texas. Brown, director of the university book store, handed the shirts out with the emblem still warm.
“We have been preparing since the Final Four,” she said. “Today we have 200 (shirts) but we will have more starting tomorrow.”
The Eagles had plenty of support here at home Saturday, with fans filling the bleachers for a watch party at Kates Gymnasium.
Hundreds of fellow students, community members and long-time fans turned out to cheer on the team. Led by coach Kari Pickens, AU pocketed its third national championship in the past 10 years.
Eight-year-old Lily Freund bounced up and down as she sat in the front row of the bleachers, whipping a pom pom back and forth.
“Whenever they score, I love cheering for them,” she said. “It’s the best day ever.”
Her older sister, Ellie, sat next to her. She was quiet, her eyes glued to the screen. For the Freund girls, the AU Women’s team aren’t just local celebrities. They’re role models. Both girls play basketball and have met members of the team during community events like Girls in Sports Day.
“I’ve known a lot of them from the start, so it’s great to see them develop their career,” said Ellie, 11.
“I see them hyping each other up and being able to keep that drive going even though they can be a bit nervous with it being able to play the NCAA championships.”
They’ve also attended plenty of games, since their mother Elizabeth Hoge is the university’s assistant athletic director.
“They’ve been here for the whole journey,” Hoge said. “They work the events, they’ve sold tickets, they’ve worked the gates.”
Darrel and Jen Leibolt cheered from the center of the bleachers, decked out in yellow and purple leis and AU T-shirts. Jen wore purple sequined fedoras; Darrel matched in a purple top hat.
While the couple couldn’t make it to Dallas, the proud season-ticket holders cheered passionately from the stands in Kates Gymnasium. They weren’t the only ones.
“The environment is electrifying,” said Jen, a graduate of Ashland Seminary. “These girls are just amazing. They’re so fun to watch.”
The Leibolts said they believe the women’s faith and humility helped lead them to victory.
“They’re very balanced. Their faith in not only each other but in God is amazing,” Jen said. “The don’t care about the stats. They’re a team.”
A group of AU volleyball players also showed up to support their fellow female athletes.
“They’re not just good players, they’re amazing women,” said Katie Thompson. “I think everyone here (on campus) has been so excited.”
Margie Camp sat front and center in her wheelchair. Her daughter, Barb McCleary, sat next to her in the bleachers.
At 98 years old, Camp may have been the oldest fan there.
“She used to come to the basketball games all the time,” McCleary said. “This is really exciting to be able to come here and see the finals. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be down there in Dallas.”
Mike Todd, a longtime AU fan, said he never had any doubt about the outcome of the game.
“I knew they would do it,” he said as he stood in line for a championship T-shirt. “They’ve got the best coach in the nation, the best team in the nation.”