Not many teams would be thrilled about opening their season in exhibition on a loss – especially with a score of 95-39.
Then again, not many teams would follow up that game with a 35-game win streak that culminated in a national championship and an undefeated regular season, either. The Lubbock Christian University Lady Chaps Basketball team defied expectations by playing a perfect season.
Setting the Tone – The Exhibition Against UConn
The Lady Chaps opened their season with an exhibition game against the then-3-time defending NCAA Division I National Championship team from the University of Connecticut. At first glance, many would consider the 56-point defeat a mauling, but when you consider the rest of the season for both teams, the NCAA Division II school’s performance was actually quite impressive.
For UConn’s part, the Huskies would complete their own perfect season at 38-0, again claiming the NCAA Division I National Championship.
LCU’s performance against the women’s basketball dynasty was actually better than that of Mississippi State in the Sweet-16 round of the Division I NCAA tournament, as the Lady Chaps scored more points and held UConn a lower score than in the Bulldog’s 98-38 matchup. The Lady Chaps would go on to win the remaining 35 games of their season in a spectacular fashion.
Raising the Bar – A Perfect Regular Season
LCU’s regular season would be marked by a 29-0 record and the top ranking in national polls.
In its inaugural foray into NCAA Division II post-season play, LCU hosted the regional tournament, which they won in an 88-68 matchup with No. 9 West Texas A&M. The win secured the Lady Chaps’ first regional title, as well as a bid to the Elite Eight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
It was also following this win that the WBCA awarded Coach Gomez the 2016 Coach of the Year award for NCAA Division II.
Keeping the Pace – The Elite Eight
In Sioux Falls, the Lady Chaps faced some tough competition in a nail-biter against Florida Southern University in the Elite Eight, pulling out a 73-69 win to advance to the Final Four.
The following day, LCU faced NCAA Division II powerhouse Bentley University, who was appearing in their record 32nd National Tournament appearance and holds the title of winningest program in Division II with 1,006 program wins. The matchup against the fellow No. 1 seed was a defensive battle, but LCU again came out on top with a 67-57 win that would secure their ticket to the National Championship in Indianapolis, where they would face a 38-2 University of Alaska Anchorage.
Winning the Race – The National Championship Game
More than 500 fans made the trip to Indianapolis to support the Lady Chaps at the Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, and nearly 1,500 students, faculty, staff, and fans packed the Rip Griffin Center to cheer on the Lady Chaps at the campus watch party.
The game was a roller coaster, and while LCU led the entire game – except for a 0:37 stretch in the first quarter – the Seawolves kept the game close with several strong runs throughout the game, once cutting the lead to just one point. However, the Lady Chaps held on to win their first program National Championship, and defeated Alaska Anchorage by a score of 73-78.
The win was a historic one for the Lady Chaps. Not only was it the first time that a team had won a national title in their first year of eligibility, but it was also only the third time that a team had completed a perfect season in Division II.
The win was even more special for seniors Kelsey Hoppel and Nicole Hampton, who had both redshirted the previous season so that they would be able to play for the Lady Chaps in their first season of post-season eligibility.
Hoppel led the team with a season-high 27 points, and also collected 4 steals. Hampton nearly became the eighth player in NCAA women's basketball history (first in Division II) to record a quadruple-double, as she had 22 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, and matched a career high with seven steals. Senior Kellyn Schneider made her 200th career block in the game.
Hoppel and Hampton finished their LCU careers with a combined 3,247 points as they led their team to the completion of a truly incredible season.
Celebrating the Season – The Lady “Chapions” Return Home
The celebration in Lubbock began as soon as the final buzzer sounded. National Championship t-shirts sold out in minutes, classes let out early, the community made preparations to welcome their team home, and news stations swarmed the campus to capture the contagious atmosphere.
Two days after the win, LCU students, faculty, staff, and fans were joined by reporters and cameras as they met the team at the gate in the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport. The Lady Chaps received a police escort back to the Rip Griffin Center, where they were greeted by a cheering crowd including community members, a fire engine hoisting LCU flags, and Congressman Randy Neugebauer, who gave an official welcome home to the National Champions.
The following day, the team and coaches were recognized in chapel, and that night the team was honored in a Championship Celebration in the Rip Griffin center, which was filled with fans, students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
During the celebration, the Lubbock City Council announced that April 7, 2016 was to be known in Lubbock as “Lady Chap Basketball Day.” Texas Senator Charles Perry read an official Recognition of the Team from the Texas Senate, including congratulations from the Governor of Texas. Following these accolades, the crowd got to hear from Coach Gomez, as well as from the seniors on the team. The evening concluded as the team autographed posters and printed pages of the newspaper story covering their win in Indianapolis.
Honoring our God – What the Championship Means to LCU
The Lady Chap’s 2015-2016 season was one that the school will remember for years to come. An undefeated, 35-game quest for the school’s first women’s basketball national championship has put this team in the record books.
Before the national championship, Coach Gomez made a statement conveying heartfelt thanks for all of the support from the LCU community, and said, “We hope to represent LCU in a way that would bring honor to God and would be a blessing to our current, former and future students, faculty and staff."
Without question, this team did just that.