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Elizabeth City State reverses last year’s heartbreak, defeats Shaw for first CIAA title

Winston-Salem State defeats Lincoln to earn CIAA men’s championship

BALTIMORE — A year after leaving Charm City in tears, the Elizabeth City State Vikings finished the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association women’s basketball championship game Saturday at CFG Bank Arena with a happier outcome.

The Vikings (20-10) defeated the Shaw University Bears 55-40 to win the program’s first CIAA Tournament title.

“It means everything to us. We expected to win, but we didn’t even put in perspective, like, we [are] making history. Like, this is the first time ever, so I really feel good,” said junior Naomi Lockamy. “We wanted to be undefeated, be the highest rank. You know, we had so many goals, but through everything, like, the main goal was just to win and that’s what we did.”

Vikings coach Tynesha Lewis, a former WNBA player, is in her third season leading Elizabeth City State University. In the 2022 CIAA Tournament, the Vikings fell short in the championship game, losing to Lincoln University 67-52. Senior Sireann Pitts and junior NyAsia Blango used the pain from the loss as motivation in this year’s tournament.

“Before we even got here the whole mission was to win. We went to the banquet [last season]. It left a bad taste in my mouth,” said Blango, who was named the tournament’s MVP. “Coach said a speech on the bus. From then I knew, like, we were locked in.”

Pitts said the win was humbling. 

“I’ve been here five years, so to see this … it’s amazing because all the work that we put in and stuff like that, it really paid off,” she said.

Shaw, led by all-CIAA honorees Brittiney Seymour and Tanayja London, swept the regular-season series against Vikings, defeating them 56-48 and 55-54 in the previous two meetings. 

The Bears had no answer for the Vikings’ offense on Saturday, and the Vikings forced 16 turnovers.

“For us, playing a team three times is not good because you really learn the tendencies of a team. We struggled with the point guard spot this year, and teams that didn’t play us three times would not know some of the things that we could not do,” said Shaw coach Jacques Curtis. “We just could not get the ball inside the way we have the rest of the tournament and the previous two times that we played again.”

Lewis said her team was ready to reverse those losses.

“I told them that they hadn’t met the ECSU women’s basketball team yet,” she said. “We didn’t play well. First game we didn’t play well. The second game, I didn’t know those teams that played against [Shaw]. I [told the team] introduce yourself.”

This season marks the 35th anniversary of the Division II national championship won by former CIAA member Hampton University in 1988. Lewis draws inspiration from that 1988 team and believes winning the CIAA championship is just the beginning of her team’s postseason goals.

“My goal coming to ECSU was to win a national championship, and I know on the way to do that you have to win the CIAA Tournament,” Lewis said.

“So this is step one.”

Rams win second title in four years

Winston-Salem State University (21-8) won its second CIAA Tournament championship in four years, staving off a comeback from Lincoln University, which made its first appearance in the CIAA men’s basketball championship game.

The 62-57 win is Rams coach Cleo Hill Jr.’s third overall CIAA title and his second at Winston-Salem State. Hill coached at Shaw University from 2008 to 2015 and has led Winston-Salem State’s team since 2018. He has been named CIAA coach of the year twice and won CIAA championships in 2011 and 2020.

“You cannot come [to Winston-Salem State] and not expect to win division championships and conference championships and advance to the NCAA tournament,“ he said. “It’s just part of the deal when you are a coach here or a player here.”

The Rams jumped out to a hot start, leading by as many as 15 points before an 11-point halftime lead. The Lions countered, outscoring the Rams 16-5 to tie the score at 34-34 midway in the second half, but the late run didn’t bother WSSU.

“When they [went] on to the 10-0 run, we didn’t get bothered by that because that’s basketball. Coming out at halftime, Coach said, ‘They gon’ go on a run,’ ” said senior guard Jonathan Hicklin. “We stayed together, and we weathered the storm. We knew they were gonna make a run, but [it] wasn’t gonna last long.”

Hicklin, Jaylen Alston and Xavier Fennell were part of the Rams’ 2020 title team and believed the team’s championship-winning experience down the stretch made the difference.

“Throughout the whole regular season, we played very close games, so I felt like it was very comfortable in that situation,” said Fennell, who finished with 8 points. “All we had to do was stay solid, stay together and play to win. Like we continue to say, we’ve been here before so we had to show it.”

While most Division II schools will play their conference championships next week, the Rams will get some rest and follow the same preparation they made at the CIAA Tournament while awaiting their opponent.

“We’re gonna enjoy it because we didn’t get a chance [last time]. 2020 was COVID. So we’re going to enjoy it safely [and] take a couple of days off,” Hill said. “We’ll get back to seeing who’s winning in other conferences, where we’ll be going and [who] we might possibly be playing against. We’ll prepare like we did all season and for this tournament.”

Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, "Go Irish."