The Lee University women's basketball team left the NAIA as its Division I national runner-up last year. By late Saturday afternoon this year's Lady Flames hope to be one notch higher in Division I of the National Christian College Athletic Association.
They have been ranked No. 1 much of the season and are seeded the same for the national tournament, but their opening game today at 5:15 p.m. at Winona Lake, Ind., is against the host team, Grace College.
Lee's only loss in its last 17 games was last Saturday night, 68-65, to host Union University in the NCCAA Mid-East Region tournament final in Jackson, Tenn., and Union (22-6) is the No. 2 seed at Winona Lake. Because of their Burbridge Rating, the Lady Flames knew before the regional that they would be the top seed for the national tourney no matter what happened at Union, a longtime NAIA power that like Lee is now a provisional NCAA Division II member in the Gulf South Conference.
Six of the eight teams in the NCCAA nationals this week are making a similar NAIA-to-NCAA transition.
"I would've liked to have won that game, but everything about that game should help us this week," Lee coach Marty Rowe said Tuesday by phone. "And playing Tennessee Temple the night before was good, too. We hadn't played in 12 days, and Temple played us as hard as they could for 40 minutes. Then to be in that atmosphere we were in against Union was great preparation for the national tournament.
"Both teams played well, and I can't think of any better scenario for us than to get stretched out in a game like that. We've had three barnburners against them this year, and I would like nothing more than to have four barnburners, but we both have a lot of work to do to get to a fourth one. This is a strong field, especially the top four seeds. Union and [No. 3 seed] Azusa Pacific have won NAIA titles, and we and [No. 4] Oklahoma Christian have been to NAIA final fours."
Grace, he said, "could be the fifth best team up here," Rowe said, but is seeded eighth as the NCCAA stayed true to the Burbridge numbers. The Lady Lancers are 17-15 but "are 11-6 since Christmas, and they play in a good league, so we'll have to play well," he added.
Grace finished 12-6 in the Crossroads League and then won the NCCAA Midwest Region.
Another No. 1 involving Lee likely will be the place senior guard Hollie German stands in the program's career scoring list by week's end. The former Polk County star has 2,236 points and is only 35 away from the 1987-90 record of Vikki Clemmons. Since the NCCAA tournament plays out to eight places, Lee is guaranteed three games at Winona Lake, so German would have the record by averaging 12 points a game. The Mideast player of the year is averaging 23 for the season.
Junior Jenna Adams is averaging 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
With a win today, Lee would play at 3:30 p.m. Thursday against Oklahoma Christian or Roberts Wesleyan. With the men's national tournament going on at the same site, the Lady Flames would have to play at 8:30 a.m. Thursday if they lose today. Places five through eight will be decided Friday; the championship and third-place games are set for Saturday.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.