SIOUX CITY, Iowa - The Marian Knights women's basketball team are national champions for the second-straight season. The Knights defeated St. Xavier 66-52 in the national championship Tuesday night in Sioux City, Iowa, in a come-from-behind effort to secure the program's second title in as many years.
Whereas Monday night's semifinal was a bit slow offensively, the championship game lacked nothing on the offensive end early. From the start, both teams hit shots from all over the court as St. Xavier carried a 14-10 lead into the first media timeout with 3:49 to play in the first quarter. Ana Kirby drilled her first two shots from the field and Joana Soeiro scored five points and dished out two assists before the timeout.
The Cougars continued to shoot the ball well for the remainder of the quarter and a last second shot from Mikayla Leyden gave St. X a 24-17 lead after one quarter of play. St. Xavier shot 9-for-13 from the field, while Marian finished 6-for-14. St. Xavier scored eight points off of four Marian turnovers.
The second quarter was a different story offensively. St. Xavier cooled off through the first five minutes of the second quarter, shooting 2-for-8, but Marian was unable to close the gap and trailed 28-20 at the media timeout with five minutes to play. Despite plenty of stops on the defensive end, Marian was unable to capitalize as the Knights struggled to an 8-for-28 mark from the field. The Knights did shoot 4-for-9 from 3-point range, but St. Xavier made four threes as well and outrebounded Marian 22-14. The two teams combined for just 12 points in the quarter.
Marian's offensive woes were cured in the third quarter as Almeida converted a three point play and Kirby drilled a triple from the left wing. The Knights came within three points multiple times, but trailed 38-35 at the media timeout with 3:49 to play in the third. After Kirby was fouled shooting a corner jumper, she converted both free throws to pull Marian within one. The Knights then took the lead on a runner from Kellie Kirkhoff in the paint and would stretch the lead to nine by quarter's end on a buzzer beater from Almeida.
Marian outscored St. Xavier 24-8 in the third quarter and Almeida scored 13 points by herself. Marian's defense held St. Xavier to 4-for-14 shooting in the quarter and the Knights never looked back, taking a 47-38 lead into the fourth. The Knights would not be denied in the final quarter, outscoring Marian 19-14 to win 66-52.
Four players scored double figures for the Knights with Almeida's 18 leading the way. Soeiro added 12 points, six rebounds and nine assists, while Kirkhoff scored 13 and Kirby finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Karen Jones provided quality minutes off the bench, finishing with seven points.
Marian shot 43 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc. The Knights outrebounded St. Xavier 36-34 and forced 14 turnovers. Marian outscored St. X 22-18 in the paint.
After the game, Katie Gearlds was named NAIA National Coach of the Year for the second-straight season. Soeiro was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player and Kirkhoff and Almeida earned all-tournament honors.
The Knights finish the season 35-3 overall and won 23 games in a row to end the season.
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