Why Transylvania’s Juli Fulks says 2024 Final Four loss will leave a wound that won’t heal

This is the torment of life as a coach: No matter how much winning or how little losing one does, the joy from the victories never seems to match the agony that accompanies defeat.

Few in the history of college basketball have ever done as much winning as Juli Fulks and her Transylvania University women’s basketball program have managed over the past three seasons.

From 2021 through 2024, Fulks has coached Transy to 91 wins in 93 games. The Pioneers have reached the NCAA Division III Tournament’s Elite Eight three straight years, the Final Four twice and won the 2023 national championship.

In so doing, Transy went an astounding 733 days in between losses.

Yet, as prologue, all that winning only made the pain from Transylvania’s 57-42 loss to New York University last month in the Final Four more acute.

Fulks says Transylvania athletics director Holly Sheilley best summarized the emotions for her team. “She said, ‘Whoever knew that going to the Final Four could feel like the biggest disappointment?’” Fulks says. “I think that’s the best way to characterize it.”

Having come within two wins of back-to-back national titles, Fulks says she tries to remind herself to see her program’s big picture success.

Still, “I think a lot more about what went wrong than what went right,” Fulks says.

Over the past two seasons combined, Transylvania produced a 64-game winning streak that stands as the eighth-longest stretch of consecutive victories in NCAA basketball history, women’s or men’s, regardless of division.

Yet the two defeats that bookend that win streak had fascinating similarities.

Transylvania coach Juli Fulks, center, says her team’s seniors “were devastated” by last month’s 57-42 loss to New York University in the NCAA Division III Final Four that ended the Pioneers’ quest for a second straight undefeated national title. “They only envisioned a back-to-back national championship,” Fulks says. “… it will just break their heart forever.”

In this year’s Final Four loss to NYU, Transylvania saw the game get away in a horrid offensive second quarter in which the Pioneers made only 1 of 11 field goals and were outscored 18-5.

Two seasons back, in a 54-47 defeat to Trine University in the NCAA Elite Eight, Transylvania saw the game get away in a horrid offensive second quarter in which the Pioneers made only 2 of 11 field goals and were outscored 21-4.

“In some ways, (NYU) absolutely paralleled the Trine game,” Fulks says.

The thread that connects the two games, Fulks believes, is that deep in the NCAA tourney, one is facing teams of sufficient defensive quality that there are few easy baskets to be scored. Games are decided by which team has the greater capacity to make shots in contested, one-on-one scenarios.

Two seasons back, Fulks says Transy’s then-youthful nucleus was not yet ready to score in that type of game against Trine.

Last season, anchored by stars Maddie Kellione and Dasia Thornton, Transylvania had just enough ability to score in contested scenarios to survive a 57-52 slog over Christopher Newport University in the national title game.

This year, with Kellione having transferred to Tennessee Tech, Transy did not ultimately have enough scoring capacity to get past NYU — which went on to claim the undefeated national championship that Transylvania was seeking.

“We got some good looks,” Fulks says, “we just didn’t hit enough in those contested, one-on-one situations.”

Fulks says Sadie Wurth, who replaced Kellione this season as Transylvania’s starting point guard, “had an amazing year. But, last year, we had both of them. This year, we did not have the benefit of two (starting-caliber) point guards.”

This spring, Transylvania’s accumulated women’s hoops success yielded something rare: It made Fulks a name that many University of Kentucky fans were supporting when the Wildcats women’s basketball head coaching job opened.

Ultimately, UK made the well-received hire of the now-former Virginia Tech head man Kenny Brooks.

Suffice to say, you don’t see a lot of NCAA Division III coaches with ample public backing for SEC head coaching jobs.

‘”It was very flattering,” Fulks says. “I think Coach Brooks is going to do a great job. But, yes, people were very kind in their sentiments.”

Did Fulks ever hear from UK during its search?

“I did not,” she says.

This past season, Transylvania started super-seniors Thornton, Kennedi Stacy and Laken Bell plus senior Sydney Wright along with Wurth, a junior.

That means 2024-25 shapes up as a year of transition for Fulks’ program.

“Our expectation never changes,” Fulks says. “It’s always to win the league (the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference). It’s always to have a chance to compete for the national championship. … We have a big graduation hit. We feel really good about the pieces behind them.”

To put in perspective the achievements of Transy’s departing seniors, Fulks says her metrics-oriented assistant, Tim Whitesel, ran the numbers on the probability of Transy’s having completed three straight undefeated regular seasons — which the Pioneers have done.

“It came out to less than .01,” Fulks says.

Still, it is the nature of sports that, when all of Transylvania’s winning was ended by the loss to New York University, the psychic scars that were left behind run deep.

“Our seniors were devastated. They only envisioned a back-to-back national championship,” Fulks says. “So there’s a part of them that (the NYU loss) will just break their heart forever.”

After a year in which she earned her 400th career win and was chosen the winner of the Pat Summitt Trophy signifying the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s NCAA Division III National Coach of the Year, Fulks is also still processing the defeat that ended her team’s season.

Will Fulks ever get over the loss to NYU that stopped Transylvania two victories short of back-to-back, unbeaten national titles?

“I don’t know,” she says.


“I doubt it.”


“Probably not.”

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