The Lady Hawks open play in their fourth straight national tournament this morning when they tip off the NCCAA Division I Championship event at 8:30 a.m. against Southern Nazarene.
On the men’s side, the Hawks — just one year removed from making waves in their final year in the NAIA by reaching the Fab Four of the national tournament — are geared up for another national tourney run, this time at the NCCAA Division I Championship, which begins today at Grace College.
Shorter, the eight-team tournament’s No. 5 seed, will take on fourth-seeded Mid-America Christian at noon today.
The winner will face the victor of the matchup between top-seeded Fresno Pacific and eighth-seeded Roberts Wesleyan in Thursday’s 3:30 pm semifinal.
Shorter’s women, seeded fifth in the eight-team tournament, squares of with the Crimson Storm, seeded fourth, for the right to advance to Thursday’s semifinal round.
They will face the winner of today’s game between top-seeded Union and eighth-seeded Roberts Wesleyan.
The Lady Hawks (17-11), making their first appearance at the NCCAA Championship in their first year as an NCCAA member, earned their automatic bid to the event by beating Emmanuel 74-47 in the NCCAA South Region title game last Wednesday.
Southern Nazarene (18-10) received an at-large bid to the national tournament despite a 73-64 loss to eventual NCCAA Central Region champion Oklahoma Christian in the regional semifinals. Like Shorter, the Crimson Storm are in search of their first NCCAA national championship after establishing themselves as a top NAIA program before deciding to make the move to NCAA Division II.
Southern Nazarene presents a stiff challenge for the Lady Hawks with three players lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of double figures.
Leading the way for SNU is 6-foot senior guard Oumoul Thiam, who averages 20 points a game while shooting 41 percent from 3 and 82 percent from the foul line. The Crimson Storm have plenty of size inside as well, with 6-foot-2 forward Annie Kassongo averaging 13.9 points and shooting 58 percent and 6-foot-4 sophomore center Aminata Fall averaging a monster double-double of 13.2 points and 14.2 rebounds a game.
Fall also has 85 blocks on the season.
While SNU will look to pound it inside, Shorter hopes to capitalize on its perimeter prowess behind its accomplished backcourt trio.
Junior point guard Karisma Boykin paces Shorter offensively at 12 points a game in addition to averaging 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and a team-high 2.0 steals. Boykin had a season-high 23 points in Shorter’s regional final victory.
Junior Kristin Nash is putting up just under 10 points a game and sophomore Ieshia Alexander comes in a 9.5 points a game.
The Lady Hawks have been outrebounded by an average of three boards a game, and will need senior forward Shelby Farrer, who brings down 8.2 caroms per outing, to stay active on the glass and counter Southern Nazarene’s size down low. Lynette Harris (5.3 rpg), Lindsey Crawford (4.5) and the physical Chelsi Matthews will also have their go against the Crimson Storm’s front line.
In the men’s bracket, the Hawks (18-11) earned an automatic bid to the national tournament by capturing the NCCAA South Region title with an 87-75 win over Southern Wesleyan last Saturday. This is Shorter’s first NCCAA Men’s Basketball Championship appearance in its first year of membership in the organization.
Mid-America Christian (17-12), a NAIA institution that is a member of the vaunted Sooner Athletic Conference, played its way into the national tournament by winning the NCCAA Central Region championship, upsetting the region’s top seed McMurry, 68-66. The Evangels have already won four NCCAA national championships and are making their 22nd appearance in the national event.
Although a matchup between the tournament’s No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, The Shorter-MACU showdown features several of the tournament’s most exciting players.
The Evangels are led by Sooner Athletic Conference Player of the Year and NCCAA Central Region MVP Charlie Shorter, who is putting up 23.1 points a game. He averaged 31.7 points per game in the Central Region Tournament, including a 44-point outburst in the regional semifinal against Oklahoma Christian.
Angelo Lewis, 6-foot-4 forward, anchors Mid-America Christian in the paint, ranking second on the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game while having led the SAC in rebounding during the season at 8.2 rebounds a game. Point guard Camilo Valencia averages 10.7 points and is dishing out 3.8 assists each time out for veteran head coach Willie Holley, who is in his 40th season as Evangels head coach and ranks second all-time in the NAIA with 767 career victories.
Shorter will counter with a foursome that guided the Hawks to a solid first season on the NCAA Division II level within the Gulf South Conference.
Forward Anthony Banks leads Shorter in both scoring (15.3) and rebounding (7.6) average and is shooting 57 percent from the floor.
Walter Hill, 6-foot-5 guard, is putting up 14.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and point guard Dedric Ware is coming off a fantastic South Region Tournament, where he averaged 18.7 points and dropped in a career-high 27 points in the regional final. For the season, Ware is averaging 14.2 points, 5.5 assists and a team-high 1.8 steals.
Guard Kenny Leverette is having the best season of his Shorter career, averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 rebounds, and will be tasked with guarding MACU’s Shorter as the Hawks’ best perimeter defender.