Senior staff writer
Marian University women’s basketball coach Katie Gearlds wore a big smile as she walked up the few steps to join her NAIA Division II national championship team on stage last week. The Knights had just won the title by winning five games in seven days at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
In only her third year of coaching, the Beech Grove native and 2003 Miss Indiana Basketball guided the No. 9-ranked Marian Knights to a 32-6 record that was capped with a 59-48 triumph over No. 3 Southern Oregon.
“I don’t think anybody thought that within three years that we would win a national championship,” Gearlds said. “These kids are always going to fight and lay it on the line.
“I couldn’t be more proud. These 12 (players) have fought hard. The three losses in five games at the end of the (regular) season was the best thing that could have happened to us. We talked before the game (championship) about leaving everything on the floor and not having any regrets.
The Knights made the 670-mile journey to the Sioux City after dropping the Crossroads League championship game to No. 19 Indiana Wesleyan 68-64 Feb. 29.
They rebounded in the national tournament and defeated No. 24 Milligan College 76-59, No. 25 Oregon Tech 72-66, No. 1 Morningside College 76-69, and No. 12 Mount Marty College 84-55 in the semifinal.
Former Roncalli standout Kellie Kirkhoff scored 16 points in the championships game. The Raiders cut Marian’s lead to 54-48 with 39 seconds left, but Kirkhoff scored the Knights’ final four points. She and senior Lakan Hasser-Smith, who scored 2,000 points in her career at Marian, were named to the all-tournament team.
Gearlds deployed a simple plan for each tournament game with the goal of winning every five-minute segment.
“This is a special moment and one that we will live with forever,” she said. “Three years with these seniors and I’m so glad we were able to crown them national champions. … Their (Southern Oregon) pressure kind of bothered us. It took a lot of work for the kids on our team to step up and just grind it out.”
Gearlds is assisted by first-year coach Mark Parker of Beech Grove, first-year assistant coach Mark Parker, also of Beech Grove, and third-year coach Vicky Volonaki.
Parker is married to Gearlds’ sister, Amy, who teaches at Beech Grove Central Elementary and coaches basketball and volleyball at Beech Grove Middle School. She was inducted recently into the Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne Athletics Hall of Fame. She is sixth in all-time career points, second in steals and third in 3-point field goals.
Gearlds began her coaching career at Marian, where the Knights were 16-16 her first year and 28-6 last year. She was an All-American at Purdue before playing for Seattle in the WNBA and pro basketball overseas.
She said last year in an interview with The Southsider Voice that she has had to learn to be patient as a coach and that coaching is vastly different than playing basketball.
“I learned how to teach and explain things,” Gearlds said in an interview with Query and Schulz on Fox Sports WNDE 1260 a few hours before the championship game. “We’ve had six players on the team for three years so they know exactly what we’re talking about … what it takes to win basketball games.
“It’s so different as a coach. When you’re a player you kind of sleep through the day, go through the pregame and then the game. As a coach there are a lot of late nights, wide-eyed nights. You think about ways to make sure your team is prepared as best as possible. Then it’s all about relaxing and trusting in your team that they can get the job done.”
Gearlds said most of the Knights had played in big games, either as high school players or overseas in international games. The Knights lose only three seniors.
Kirkhoff , 9.4 points, 2.4 assists, Sarah Corbin (Decatur Central), 3.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, and Amanda Annee (Perry Meridian), 4.5 points, are among expected returnees next season.