The Westminster women’s basketball team faces Cumberland in the first round of the 35th annual NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by Susan G. Komen Greater Kansas City. The game begins at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, at the Independence Events Center in Independence, Missouri.
Westminster moved up to No. 3 in the final regular-season installment of the 2015 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, the national office announced Wednesday. The Griffins earned one of the four No. 1 seeds in the 32-team field for the second-straight year.
Westminster enters this year’s national championship at 25-2 on the season and riding a 15-game winning streak. The Griffins earned their berth into the national championship by winning a third-straight Frontier Conference Tournament title with a 62-61 win over Montana State-Northern on Monday.
The Griffins are making a ninth-straight appearance at the national championship, and they have reached the quarterfinals in three of the past four years. Westminster is 10-8 all-time at the tournament while posting a 7-1 mark in the first round.
Cumberland qualified as the No. 15 at-large selection. Cumberland is 16-12 overall this season and recorded an 8-6 mark in the Mid-South Conference to finish tied for third. This is the Bulldogs sixth appearance in the NAIA National Championships and their first since 2013.
The first round game will be the first time the two teams have ever played.
A win in the first round would advance the Griffins to a second round game on March 20. The opponent would be the winner between No. 4 seed Westmont and No. 5 seed Lyon.
Freed-Hardeman received the tournament’s No. 1 seed with Oklahoma City and Campbellsville claiming the other two top seeds. Oklahoma City is the defending national champion and has won two of the past three titles. With last year’s title, the Stars now own more national championships (seven) and the most championship victories (61) among active NAIA programs. Additionally, Oklahoma City’s 21 all-time appearances is third among the qualifiers, trailing Campbellsville (23) and Wayland Baptist (22).
Golden State Athletic Conference members Vanguard and Westmont join Oklahoma City as the only teams among the field with a national title. The Lions took home the banner in 2008, while Westmont cut down the nets in 2013.
Three of the four semifinalists from a year ago are back in 2015 — Freed-Hardeman, Oklahoma City and Wiley. Wiley, which was arguably the Cinderella story of the 2014 event, received the fifth at-large bid into the championship field. The Wildcats are 22-4 on the year. Wiley owns a 4-3 all-time record at the championship, with three of those victories coming in last year’s run.
Four conferences — the Frontier Conference, GSAC, Mid-South Conference and Red River Athletic Conference — placed at least four teams in the field of 32.
Eleven of the 32 qualifiers have made at least 10 appearances at the national championship, led by previously mentioned Campbellsville (23). Outside of the Tigers, Wayland Baptist (22), Oklahoma City (21), Freed-Hardeman (19), Lewis-Clark State (18), Oklahoma Baptist (17), Vanguard (17), Langston (12), Montana State-Northern (12), Lindsey Wilson (10) and Westmont (10) have made 10 or more trips.
Great Falls and Martin Methodist are making their first-ever national championship appearance. Both programs received at-large spots.
The first 30 games of the national championship will be video streamed live online on the NAIA Network, the NAIA’s official video streaming platform powered by Stretch Internet. The championship final will air on ESPN3 for the second-straight year.