DALLAS — The queens of Division II women’s basketball reside in Ashland, Ohio, but their coronation took place on Saturday afternoon in Dallas, Texas.

The No. 1-ranked Eagles were fitted for a crown after holding off a late rally by sixth-ranked Minnesota Duluth to earn a 78-67 national championship victory at the American Airlines Arena.

“This team was so hand-picked,” coach Kari Pickens said. “They loved each other really well and have been so selfless and I’m so happy for them.”

Senior Annie Roshak pumped in 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Zoe Miller added 16 points. Hayley Smith posted 10 points and 10 rebounds and Hallie Heidemann notched 11 points, including three huge treys, to help AU complete a 37-0 season that clinched the school’s third national title in program history.

“Sometimes things … you work really hard and it doesn’t pan out,” Pickens said. “But this team worked really hard and I’m so, so proud of them.”

The Eagles were the nation’s top-ranked team in the final 10 polls of the season, then rolled through the tournament. The toughest test was probably a nailbiting, 61-58 regional title win over Grand Valley State at Kates Gymnasium. Defending national champion Glenville State presented a swarming press, but AU turned back the Pioneers with a 76-67 decision in the Final Four.

Compared to those two games, the title tilt was a breeze.

hoist the trophy

AU shook off a ragged first quarter to open a 14-11 edge after the first 10 minutes.

Junior point guard Saveya Brockington picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of the game and sat for the remainder of the period. She played just five minutes in the entire first half. The Eagles also committed four turnovers in the first four minutes and made just 1 of 4 treys in the frame.

Still, Ashland had the better of it to that point — and that was a bad omen for the Bulldogs (32-4).

“Ashland is incredibly well-coached,” Minnesota Duluth coach Mandy Pearson said. “If you make one mistake they make you pay. Defensively, they work just as hard as we do, and I don’t say that about many people.

“Their offensive efficiency is just absolutely incredible. You have to make them uncomfortable and I don’t know if we did that in the first half.”

AU established control of the contest with a scintillating second period that proved to be the difference in the game.

“This was one of the first games all year we didn’t get doubled, or tripled inside,” Roshak said. “We got a lot of inside touches and we pushed the ball well.

“That second-quarter run was huge for us, to take that big of a lead into halftime.”

Pickens’ club outscored the Bulldogs 26-11, powered by a 15-0 burst in the middle of the frame. Roshak led the charge for the Eagles, cutting a swath of destruction in the lane while scoring 14 first-half points.

Worse for Minnesota Duluth, national player of the year Brookie Olson picked up her third foul with 5:39 remaining in the half.

“When a player like that gets her third foul because her dumb coach puts her back in the game … without her, defensively inside we didn’t have the physicality to do what we needed to do,” Pearson said.

Averaging nearly 30 points per game in the tournament, Olson was finished for the half with just four points, and the Eagles took full advantage. With Olson on the bench and the Bulldogs’ misfiring on an 0-of-7 performance behind the arc in the first half, Ashland built a big lead.

“We were always just trying to play catch-up,” Olson said. “When they were getting the ball inside we had to dig down or turn away from their shooters and they were making threes.

“They have such a good post presence and then shooters on the outside, they just had a little too much for us.”

The two teams essentially swapped baskets in the third quarter, and AU finished it with a 59-40 bulge heading to the final 10 minutes.

In the fourth period, the Bulldogs turned to relentless full-court pressure that created a number of Ashland turnovers. That scenario helped Pearson’s team trim a 21-point deficit to seven at one point.

“They really had us rattled in the fourth quarter, but we had to be the aggressor,” Pickens said.

A timely three here, a pair of clutch free throws there and the Eagles never wavered down the stretch to clinch the title.

“Just being so selfless,” Pickens said. “There’s a lot of girls on this team that were all-conference at other institutions, but to come here and be a part of this, that’s what makes today possible.”


• Ashland head coach Kari Pickens has become the first woman to win an NCAA Division II women’s basketball national title as a player (2013), assistant coach (2017) and head coach (2023).

• Senior Annie Roshak was selected the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament after scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds for the Eagles.

“Annie is a remarkable basketball player,” Pickens said. “She took six shots and scored 20 points. She played fearlessly and she played like someone who wants to come out and make a mark today.

“I’m just thankful she has a graduate year.”

• The win against Minnesota-Duluth makes Ashland the sixth Division II women’s basketball program to win at least three national championships (Cal Poly Pomona and North Dakota State five each, and Delta State, Lubbock Christian and North Dakota three each). 

• Ashland’s three national championships have come under three different head coaches. They’re the first team in Division II history that can make this claim. Sue Ramsey brought home the 2013 national championship. Robyn Fralick, who was hired as Michigan State’s head coach on Friday, piloted AU to the 2017 national crown. Kari Pickens was the bench boss this year.

• This was the first matchup between Ashland and Minnesota Duluth in women’s basketball.

• Minnesota Duluth’s national player of the year Brooke Olson set a Division II NCAA tournament record with 171 points. The previous record was 149.

“Brooke Olson is an incredible basketball player,” Pickens said. “We knew that we would have to double her. In the second half she played like the National Player of the Year (22 points in the second half).”

AU title game

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