Isabel Pheifer, Aleasha Hintz—Staff Writer
Togetherness. The Dordt University Women’s Basketball team revolved around this word during the 2021-2022 season.
“Together we commit to compete with love, grit, and a purpose that is greater than ourselves.”
The promise outlined the team’s vision statement, and the fans who watched their run at the national tournament saw the vision come alive on the court.
“Our purpose was greater than just a simple win or loss—we knew it was so much larger than that, and that propelled us all season,” Head Women’s Basketball Coach Bill Harmsen said. “We were there to serve each other instead of ourselves.”
After advancing to the final site of the NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, the Defenders knew they faced a tough schedule. To advance to the second round, the women needed to topple Campellsville University, the No. 1 seed in their quadrant.
The challenge did not scare them, as the Defenders took advantage of the opportunity to play under the bright lights of the Tyson Events Center and cruised to a commanding 35-point win, advancing to the quarterfinals.
The next day, the Defenders were paired up against the No. 2 seed in their quadrant, The Master’s University. Yet again, the Defenders were not caught off guard and continued to play their way through higher ranked teams.
With a winning score of 72-56 in the quarterfinal, the Defenders advanced to the semifinal round. They were set to face Southeastern Florida, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.
“I knew if we hit our stride, we would be a tough out,” Harmsen said.
The Defenders had confidence in their abilities and believed they would be a challenge to knock out of the tournament. Quickly enough, each team they faced came this realization as well.
The semifinal game proved the ultimate test of determination and fortitude for the Defenders. They prided themselvs in remaining mentally tough and physically strong, and it showed in this low-scoring, defensive game. Dordt led nearly the whole game but never grabbed a lead larger than 10 points.
After an impressive comeback by Southeastern, Dordt edged out their top-ranked opponent by one point, winning the game 53-52. The win sent them to the National Championship game for the first time in program history.
“There was just so much joy and happiness, not only because we were headed to the national championship, but also because all the hard work and effort we put into this season was showing,” senior guard Mya Chmielewski said.
A mix of excitement and shock packed the Tyson Events Center, radiating from the Dordt team and their supporters.
“I felt totally blessed, especially with how that semifinal game ended,” Harmsen said. “While watching our kids just battle through that adversity and come out on top, I knew something special was happening.”
The following night, Dordt’s history-making season came to an end on the biggest stage possible. The Defenders started slow, trailing 21-8 after the first quarter, putting them in a position to fight the hardest they had ever fought.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Defenders were down by 29, but Dordt rallied to fall short with a final score of 77-65.
“Very few athletes get to be a part of something special like that, so I really tried to savor and appreciate every single moment,” Chmielewski said. “I couldn’t be more proud of what we were able to accomplish.”
The defensive prowess of the Defenders proved to be too much for most teams in the tournament, and the fans felt it.
“They just encouraged our women and lifted them up, and I know our team could feel it,” Harmsen said about the support from Defender Nation.
Each day of the tournament, seas of white, black, and gold took over the Tyson Event Center. For the Tuesday night championship game, students left campus decked out in body paint and pompoms. As Dash the Defender greeted students and handed out free tickets inside the arena, a student wore a knight’s helmet and local TV stations interviewed others.
“Having the fans cheering for us helped us play with energy throughout the game and having them there is something I will never forget,” Chmielewski said.
The Dordt women’s basketball team walked away from this historical season as the NAIA National Runner-up. They finished the season exactly where they deserved and exactly where they belonged: together on the podium.
“I just want them to be able to reflect and think, ‘What an incredible ride,’” Harmsen said.