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Transylvania women’s basketball’s quest for back-to-back national titles to begin in Lexington

The proprietors of NCAA college basketball’s longest active win streak will have the opportunity to extend their 60-game feat in front of a home crowd, as the second-ranked Transylvania University women’s basketball team will serve as one of eight hosts this weekend in the opening rounds of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

The Pioneers (27-0), fresh off their sixth straight Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship after a 74-46 finals victory against Mount St. Joseph on Saturday, remain in hot pursuit of their second national title after breaking through for last year’s Division III championship.

Head coach Juli Fulks said the team looks forward to another opportunity to host the opening rounds, and that the Pioneers will rely on their defense — the best in D-III women’s basketball, allowing just 42.1 points per game — and rebounding to carry them through.

“I think we’re excited,” Fulks said Monday. “Any time we get to play at home we feel good about it. And so we’ll do a lot of prep this week, have game plans for everybody. I think at the end of the day, we always rely on our defensive rebounding. And that travels so whether we go on the road or whether we’re here, we know we can rely on that part.”

Transylvania’s HCAC Tournament victory granted the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and bumped the Pioneers’ win streak to 10th all-time in NCAA college basketball history, regardless of division or gender, tied with the Division I San Francisco men (1954-56), the Division III SUNY Potsdam men (1985-87) and the Division III Capital University women (1994-95), the latter of which Fulks was a part as a freshman guard.

The team’s 60th straight win also moved Fulks’ all-time career coaching win total to 396.

Transylvania claimed two of three marquee awards following the conclusion of the HCAC’s regular season, with senior forward Dasia Thornton earning 2024 HCAC Player of the Year honors and senior guard Kennedi Stacy being named the HCAC Defensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row. Stacy was also named HCAC Tournament MVP.

Both Thornton and Stacy were named to the 2024 HCAC All-Conference First Team. Senior guard Laken Ball, senior forward Sydney Wright and junior guard Sadie Wurth were named to the All-Conference Second Team. Fulks was named the 2024 HCAC Coach of the Year in a vote by league coaches.

The Pioneers are one of three undefeated teams in D-III women’s college basketball alongside No. 1 New York University (25-0) and No. 3 Rhode Island College (27-0). Transylvania received three first-place votes in the most recent Division III Top 25 rankings.

“The excitement is still there every game,” Ball said. “I mean, that’s what we’re fighting for all season. Every game we step on the floor anywhere we know, like whoever we’re playing, we’re fighting to play for home at the end of the season. It’s what our fans want, it’s what we want.”

The Pioneers will face Chatham University of Pittsburgh (23-4) at the Clive M. Beck Center at 8 p.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after Emory (19-6) and Ohio Wesleyan (22-6) tip off at 5:30 p.m. The winners of each game will meet for a round-of-32 matchup at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Of all the teams, I didn’t expect Chatham,” Fulks said. “We try to always prep in advance, and so this will be a new one for us. And so we’ll spend obviously the next few days on them. Emory has come here, you know, multiple years in a row. We’ve seen Ohio Wesleyan a lot just because of similar matchups. So that’s the one unknown and so that’ll be fun, actually, to play somebody new and different.”

Chatham punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with its first Presidents’ Athletic Conference Tournament championship on Saturday, defeating Geneva 77-50.

The Pioneers earned their first NCAA championship in women’s basketball last season with an undefeated 33-0 campaign. The team has won 91 of its last 92 games, with its last HCAC loss suffered in 2020.

Transylvania has defeated two teams this season that will also be competing in the NCAA Tournament field: DePauw (60-50 on Nov. 12) and Wisconsin Lutheran (54-48 on Nov. 26).

Berea College is the only Kentucky team other than Transylvania to make this year’s NCAA field. The Mountaineers (24-3) automatically qualified on Saturday with an 80-60 victory over Belhaven University in the Collegiate Conference of the South Tournament.

Berea will face host DePauw at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the first round in Greencastle, Indiana.

Transylvania seniors Sydney Wright, Dasia Thornton, Laken Ball and Kennedi Stacy react during the NCAA Division III Tournament selection show viewing party on Monday at the Clive M. Beck Center. Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com
Transylvania seniors Sydney Wright, Dasia Thornton, Laken Ball and Kennedi Stacy react during the NCAA Division III Tournament selection show viewing party on Monday at the Clive M. Beck Center. Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com
Head coach Juli Fulks is seeking a second national championship after leading the Pioneers to the first in program history last season. Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com
Head coach Juli Fulks is seeking a second national championship after leading the Pioneers to the first in program history last season. Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com
The Pioneers will welcome Chatham, Emory and Ohio Wesleyan to the Clive M. Beck Center this weekend for the opening rounds of the NCAA DIII Tournament. Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com
The Pioneers will welcome Chatham, Emory and Ohio Wesleyan to the Clive M. Beck Center this weekend for the opening rounds of the NCAA DIII Tournament. Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com

This weekend

What: First two rounds of women’s NCAA Division III Tournament

Where: Transylvania’s Clive M. Beck Center

Friday: Emory vs. Ohio Wesleyan, 5:30 p.m.; Transylvania vs. Chatham, 8 p.m.

Saturday: Friday’s winners, 7:30 p.m.