National champs: Lady Jays capture NJCAA Division III women's basketball title

Mar. 16—ROCHESTER — For the first time ever, the Minnesota West Lady Jays are national champions.

The women's basketball team at Minnesota West Community and Technical Colege claimed its first NJCAA Division III national championship Saturday by defeating arch rival Rochester CTC 76-60 at the Rochester Regional Sports Center.

It came nearly a year after the Jays finished as the national runner-up following a 73-53 loss to Rochester in the title game. The Lady Jays got their well-earned revenge in this year's rematch as they jumped out to an early lead before holding off a fierce Yellowjacket comeback to clinch the title.

"I'm just so happy for these kids," said Lady Jays head coach Rosalie 'Moz' Hayenga-Hostikka. "The things that some of them have been through and before the game, I just thought 'I want it for them so bad.' I mean, they will remember this for the rest of their lives."

The top-seeded Lady Jays and No. 2 seed Yellowjackets met each other twice in the regular season and split the two games, but Saturday's matchup would look a little different. The Yellowjackets were entering the game short handed, suiting up only six of their nine players on the roster. That made preparation for the title game a bit different for Hayenga-Hostikka compared to the regular-season contests.

"It was weird because like with Northland and Anoka (Ramsey), when we had the scout, we had kind of a whole season of a scout and with Rochester everything that I scouted, even before the regional tournament was kind of out the window," said the coach. "So we just had to look at the last two games and try to figure out, how is (RCTC head coach Jason Bonde) using this personnel, because some of them were in positions they've never played before. And so it was weird because you know them well, but it was different than what we'd scouted the last time when we played them in the conference."

But the Lady Jays grabbed the lead right away in the contest off a 3-pointer from sophomore Olivia Hayenga. She hit another one a few minutes later before the Yellowjackets cut the deficit to two points. West responded with a 7-0 run to take an 18-9 lead before eventually ending the first quarter ahead 21-15.

Sophomore Hattie DeVries was 4-for-4 in that first quarter, scoring 10 points all on tough drives to the basket that were difficult for the Yellowjackets to defend.

The second quarter saw RCTC keep things close, getting to within a point at 23-22. A trey from sophomore Audrey Drapeau began a 9-0 run from Minnesota West to take its first double-digit lead at 32-22 with 5:19 left. The Yellowjackets cut into that deficit a bit before halftime, working it to a six-point game in the final seconds.

After that, Drapeau raced down the floor and heaved a half-court shot that banked in at the buzzer, sending the traveling Minnesota West fans into a frenzy and the Lady Jays into the locker room with a 42-33 lead.

"I knew it was gonna go in because it felt good once I let it go," Drapeau said. "And then I just looked at it as like, this was the momentum that we needed to keep going and I just was trying to take the heart away from them. So after that shot, I just knew that we had it."

Despite the Jays appearing to have the halftime momentum, RCTC began to inch its way back into the game early in the third quarter. The Yellowjackets quickly trimmed their deficit to four points in the first couple of minutes before a couple of buckets from Hayenga and DeVries made it a seven-point game at the 6:47 mark.

But from then until the 3:26 mark, Rochester scored seven consecutive points to tie the game at 46. Jada James, RCTC's leading scorer of the game, scored five points in that run.

A Drapeau assist to sophomore Dasia Potter for a layup ended that run and gave West the lead again, but the Yellowjackets hung around and took their first lead of the game, 50-49, with 54 seconds left in the third.

Shortly after that though, RCTC's Aniyah Reuben fouled out of the game, putting the Yellowjackets in danger of playing the rest of the game in a 5-on-4 with other players in foul trouble at that point.

Another Drapeau 3-pointer with 11 seconds left gave the Jays a 52-50 lead they would take into the fourth quarter. The Lady Jays were one strong quarter away from becoming national champions, but it was then when the game began to take a bit of a weird turn.

It started with an extended break between the third and fourth quarter due to issues with the scoreboard, which did give Hayenga-Hostikka more time to talk with her team to keep it focused heading into the game's final 10 minutes.

"There was that whole issue with the score and everything and she just kind of said, 'you just gotta go out and play,'" Hayenga said. "I mean, we know what we're capable of doing and we knew we just had to keep pushing and keep going, and I think that's what we did."

Less than a minute into the final quarter, RCTC's Janae Bennett fouled out of the game and it appeared that the team had only four players left to play. But Yellowjacket head coach Jason Bonde sent in Sophie Andring, who hadn't played since suffering a knee injury back in January.

The Lady Jays then went on a 9-2 run that was capped off by Hayenga's third 3-pointer to take a 61-52 lead with under seven minutes to go. But in the midst of that run was Lady Jay freshman Skyla Petersen fouling out of the game with 7:57 left.

At the 5:24 mark with the Jays still up nine, James then fouled out for RCTC after picking up her fourth foul that was quickly followed by a technical. That not only sent Hayenga to the free throw line, but it also forced the Yellowjackets to play only four players for the rest of the game.

Hayenga sank both of her free throws to open back up a double-digit lead for Minnesota West.

DeVries later fouled out of the game with 3:16 left, but it turned out not to matter much as the shorthanded Yellowjackets couldn't find their way back into the game. The Jays easily held on to their double-digit lead for the final few minutes. Once the buzzer sounded, the Lady Jay players poured onto the court and embraced in celebration.

Hayenga was named tournament MVP after a strong title-game performance of 22 points, eight rebounds and a couple of blocks. She ended the tournament with 58 points, 32 rebounds, 12 assists, seven steals and six blocks.

She ends an outstanding Lady Jay career that includes several accolades like MCAC player of the year, national player of the year and numerous school records. But winning the national title is firmly at the top of the list of accomplishments for her.

"I mean, it's cool to have all those awards and everything, and I think Moz said it perfectly. I mean, I have all that stuff under my name, but a national tournament with this team is far more important," Hayenga said.

Despite fouling out, DeVries still led West in scoring with 23 points. She capped off an excellent tournament run that saw her score 71 points at a 23.7 per game average. She was also very efficient, shooting 73% from the field in the tournament.

Drapeau also dazzled throughout the tournament, ending her run with a near-triple double of 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Both she and DeVries were named to the all-tournament team.

"I told myself, if I wanted to open it up for Hattie, or for (Olivia) or the rest of us I had to have to score because then (other teams) would have to worry about me and then it would open up for the rest of them or if they worried about Hattie or Liv, then it would open it up for me," Drapeau said. "So it was like I needed to have an impact like that in order to help the team in any type of way."

James led all scorers for RCTC with 24 points and she also grabbed 13 rebounds. Kara Goetzinger also notched a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Macaya Copeland scored 16 points and had six assists. All three of them made the all-tournament team.

As a team, the Yellowjackets shot 33.8% from the field and made only one of their 21 3-point attempts. They end their season with a 23-5 record.

As for the Jays (26-7), they end their season on a 12-game win streak and with wins in 15 of their last 16 games.

In a season with many challenges, struggles and personal tragedies along the way, they prevailed through it all and came out on top as national champs in the end.

"I think it's a little bit of just what they went through," said Hayenga-Hostikka, who was named coach of the tournament. "I know it's like a broken record, but they just love being around each other. I mean, we've been 24/7 for five days and I mean, this is the team that I think they just wanted to win for each other and they just, we got on this roll and I think they just honestly believed that we couldn't lose."

Rochester CTC 15 18 17 10 — 60

Minnesota West 21 21 10 24 — 76

LADY JAYS (FG FTM-FTA PTS) — DeVries 9 5-5 23, Petersen 0 2-2 2, UsesArrow 0 1-2 1, Drapeau 7 4-4 22, Hayenga 6 7-12 22, Potter 2 0-0 5, Ziede 0 1-2 1. Team Totals 24 20-27 76.

YELLOWJACKETS (FG FTM-FTA PTS) — Copeland 7 2-4 16, Goetzinger 5 5-10 15, Bennett 2 1-1 5, James 9 5-8 24. Team Totals 23 13-23 60.