Courtesy of Christopher Newport University athletics

DALLAS, TX- The 2022-23 Christopher Newport women’s basketball season came to an epic conclusion on Saturday afternoon, as the Captains ended an historic season with a hard-fought 57-52 loss to second-ranked Transylvania University (33-0) in the NCAA Division III National Championship Game. After erasing a 13-point second-half deficit, the top-ranked CNU squad suffered its first loss of the season and wrapped up the year at the American Airlines Center in Dallas with a 31-1 overall record.

“I just want to start off by congratulating Transylvania,” said head coach Bill Broderick. “They played a great game today … I also just want to say that I’m extremely proud of my group. I think we fought and competed through a lot of adversity this year, and we didn’t stop fighting until the final buzzer went off.”

Christopher Newport secured national runner-up honors after the finest season of women’s basketball in program history while setting a program record with 31 victories.

The defense continued to reign, holding the Pioneers to just 57 points in the title bout, marking the 26th time in 32 games this season that the Captains’ foe failed to reach 60 points. The setback snaps a 55-game win streak in games the CNU defense holds their opponent to 60 or under, dating back to March 8, 2019. 

Playing without a pair of starters throughout the NCAA Championship Tournament, the Captains continued to show the grit and determination that landed them in the final game of the season in front of a record-breaking crowd in the Dallas Mavericks (NBA) home arena. Over 2,300 spectators, a record for a CNU Women’s Basketball game, stuffed into the site of only the second-ever joint championship event featuring the Division I, II, and III title games in the same venue including a fervent group of CNU fans that helped Christopher Newport rally in the second half. 

The Captains raced out to a nine-point lead in the first quarter, when Hannah Kaloi drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key with 3:23 remaining to take a 15-6 lead. After closing to within three at the end of the period, Transylvania used an 8-3 run to start the second to take the lead, 20-18. Gabbi San Diego nailed a corner trey but the Pioneers forced four turnovers early in the second quarter to flip the lead in their favor.

CNU trailed at the half for only the sixth time this season, 23-21, as the defenses took control through the bulk of the second quarter. In the second, the two teams combined for just six made baskets on 33 attempts. 

After the intermission, Kaloi knocked down the first bucket of the second half to draw the game back even at 23-all, but a 13-0 burst by the Pioneers put the Captains in dangerous territory, down 36-23. Kaloi then hit a circus shot in the lane with a pretty finger roll for two, and the Captains defense forced two turnovers that led to back-to-back buckets. First Kaloi and then Camille Malagar to trim the lead back to seven, 36-29. 

Hannah Orloff, who had a tremendous national championship game for the Captains, then came up with a strong offensive rebound with a minute left in the third quarter and finished a stickback layup to cut the lead to four. Transylvania had a big answer with a three-pointer to end the Captains’ 9-0 run, but CNU was right back in the game heading into the final ten minutes down just 39-32. 

Transy momentarily re-took a double digit lead with a three-pointer from Madison Kellione to start the fourth, but CNU All-American Sondra Fan made her presence felt on the very next possession. After spraining her ankle in the first quarter, Fan found herself struggling from the field and needing ten shots to finally see one go down, but she buried a triple with nine minutes left to cut the lead to seven, 42-35. The twine-tickling three sent a spark into the Captains’ faithful in the stands and the rest of her team on the floor. The next bucket for CNU came on a beautiful feed from Fan to Orloff for an easy deuce. 

Fan’s triple keyed an 11-2 run that got the Captains back within one, 44-43. San Diego pulled CNU within five with a pull-up jumper in the lane and the Captains went into a zone defense that forced four missed shots and two turnovers in the run. Then, on another nice feed from Fan, Alivia Giles connected on a turnaround in the lane to make it 44-41. The next possession, Kaloi split a pair of defenders off the dribble and knocked down a mid-range jumper to cap the run. 

Transylvania connected on a three-pointer to lead by four headed into the final media timeout, but Giles intercepted a pass and finished on the run-out to make the score 47-45 with 3:39 remaining. After a pair of missed free throws by the Pioneers, fifth-year guard Lauren Fortescue was fouled on the way to the basket, giving her an opportunity to tie the game for CNU. 

Calmly, Fortescue delivered. In just CNU’s second trip to the charity stripe, she banged in both free throws to tie the game, 47-47, with a touch more than two minutes left to play. 

On the other end, Transylvania got to the line and converted on both, but San Diego answered with a driving layup right before the clock ticked below one minute remaining. Transy re-took the lead on a layup and Christopher Newport failed to convert on the offensive end, forcing the Captains into a fouling situation. Fan hit another three-pointer, the 218th of her career, in the final seconds, but the Pioneers converted from the free-throw line to close out the win. 

Following the game, San Diego was named to the NCAA All-Championship Team, joining Devon Byrd and Chelsie Schweers as the only Captains to ever earn the post-tournament recognition. This year, San Diego was joined by Kellione, the Most Outstanding Player, and Transylvania’s Dasia Thornton. Rhode Island College’s Angelina Nardolillo and Smith’s Katelyn Pickunka also were recognized. 

San Diego was one of two players in double figures with 11 points and a team-high five assists in the game. Kaloi was the other, with a team-leading 13 points and seven rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting in the contest. She added two blocks while her teammate in the front court, Hannah Orloff, swatted seven. Orloff also scored six points, added three steals, and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds while playing a career-high 32 minutes of action. Orloff concluded the tournament with 21 blocks, tying for the most in a postseason run since Hayley Kenner (Tufts) had 22 in the 2014 version of the tournament. 

CNU outshot Transylvania, hitting 36.1 percent from the field while the Pioneers were held to just 30.3 percent, but the Pioneers held a big advantage at the free-throw line, knocking down 11-of-17 attempts while CNU was 3-for-4. Christopher Newport also outrebounded Transy, 44-42. 

The championship game was the final contest in the careers of Lauren Fortescue and Sondra Fan, who each played pivotal roles in the Captains setting a new bar of success for CNU women’s basketball this year. Fortescue finished her career with 940 career points in 113 career games. Fan now ranks seventh all-time in career games played with 115 and wrapped her storied career with 1,494 career points, the sixth most in CNU women’s basketball history. 

Christopher Newport drops just the second game in the last 76 contests dating back to December 29, 2019. The Captains close the year with a program-best 31-1 (.969) overall record and advanced to the team’s first-ever NCAA National Championship Game.