Often times in sports, fans and pundits are too quick in the immediate aftermath of an accomplishment to term it "the best" or "the greatest."
In the case of the 2016-17 Ashland University women's basketball team, however, the facts back this up – it is the best women's basketball team in the history of NCAA Division II.
The Eagles won the 2017 D-II national championship on Friday (March 24) night after a 93-77 win over Virginia Union in the title game in Columbus. Ashland is the first Division II women's basketball team to end a season at 37-0, but why it is at the head of the class of all the teams that have won national titles at that level (since 1982) goes a lot deeper.
Of the 36 Division II national champions, only four have earned that distinction while also going undefeated – 2016-17 Ashland, 2015-16 Lubbock Christian (35-0), 2013-14 Bentley (35-0) and 1994-95 North Dakota State (32-0). Looking at the key team season statistics for all four, Ashland makes its case very well:
- This season, the Eagles averaged 93.4 points per game. None of the other three undefeated averaged more than 85.5.
- Ashland won its games by an average of 30.2 points per game, while the previous best for a D-II unbeaten was 27.9.
- Of the Eagles' six NCAA postseason wins, their closest margin of victory was 12 points, their average margin of victory was 17.2 points and four of those wins were against teams which finished the season in the top 15 in the final Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Top 25 poll – No. 2 Virginia Union, No. 4 Harding, No. 6 Drury and No. 15 West Texas A&M.
- Some of the other key team statistics in which Ashland bested the other previous D-II unbeatens are 3-point field-goal percentage (41.0), free-throw percentage (77.6), assists per game (24.4), turnover margin per game (8.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.59-to-1).
In addition, none of the previous women's basketball teams to finish undefeated in Division II had five players score at least 350 points in a season, or have five players dish out at least 100 assists (Ashland was three away from a sixth 100-assist player, too).
To top all that off, Ashland is the highest-scoring team in D-II women's basketball history, as well, with 3,456 points.
On Friday night, Ashland became the first Division II women's basketball team to win two national titles in a five-year span since Cal Poly Pomona won back-to-back in 2001-02. Ashland also is just the seventh D-II women's basketball program with multiple national championships.
Eagle head coach Robyn Fralick said all season that the strength of the team was the team. It was a very unique team that featured:
- Both the WBCA Coach of the Year (Fralick) and Assistant Coach of the Year (Kari Pickens) - and, as they would tell you, the graduate assistant of the year (Stacie Travis) and the volunteer assistant of the year (Tim Fralick).
- First-team WBCA All-American junior forwards Laina Snyder and Andi Daugherty, who also happen to be the No. 3 and No. 4 all-time scorers, respectively (Snyder 1,570 points, Daugherty 1,516), in Ashland history with a season to go. Ashland was the only D-II team this season with two first-team WBCA All-Americans.
- A senior guard, Kelsey Peare, who became just the second player in program history to lead the country in an individual statistical category (3-point field-goal percentage, 51.8) and is Ashland's all-time games played leader at 130.
- The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, guard Jodi Johnson. Johnson set new single-game highs in triples in back-to-back games at the Elite Eight (three vs. Harding, then four vs. Virginia Union) after not hitting more than two in her first 35 college games.
- Senior guard Alex Henning, who turned the baseline reverse layup into a key offensive play every game and finished her Eagle career at 71-3 (.959) as a starter.
- And a bench that featured the team's "heart and soul," senior guard Rachelle Morrison, the first players into the game in junior forward Julie Worley, sophomore guard Maddie Dackin and freshman guard Renee Stimpert, and a bright future in sophomore guard Brooke Smith, freshman forward Sara Loomis and freshman guard Baylee Kuhlwein.
So how will the 2016-17 Ashland University women's basketball team be remembered now and into the future? Perhaps Fralick put it best:
"What I'm most sad about is, I wish this team could play another game."