The Elizabeth City State women’s basketball team defeated Shaw University, 55-40, to win the school’s first-ever CIAA Tournament title on Saturday at CFG Bank Arena. The Lady Vikings were dominant from the start and never trailed, leading by as much as 21 points early in the third quarter.

Last season’s 67-52 loss to Lincoln in the title game left the Lady Vikings determined to be on the winning side this year.

For ECSU head coach Tynesha Lewis, 2022 was a challenge for reasons away from the court. Lewis said she has only vague memories of last year. Her mother contracted COVID during the season and was on a ventilator for 18 days with doctors giving her little chance of pulling through. Her mother survived, and Lewis credited her team with getting her through the uncertain time.

“I don’t even remember last year,” said Lewis, a former four-time All-ACC player during her college career at North Carolina State, who played six seasons in the WNBA with the Houston Comets, Charlotte Sting and Minnesota Lynx. “I was ready to give up coaching in my first season. But our players held me down, they said, ‘We got you!’ They helped me out during an extremely difficult time and gave me all they had.”

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The Lady Vikings were the No. 5 seed entering the tournament after earning a 16-10 overall record, including a 10-6 finish in the CIAA. They reached the championship game for the second consecutive year, and they didn’t leave this year’s final to chance.

The Lady Vikings led 32-16 at halftime and never allowed Shaw to get within double digits. Lady Bears coach Jacques Curtis said this team is building a program he is proud of.

“This group that we have has taken Shaw back to where we need to be, and that’s competing for championships every year,” Curtis said as his players stared ahead with stoic faces at the postgame news conference. “Tonight, we just couldn’t score the ball as well as we had been doing earlier in the tournament.”

In their two previous regular season games against Shaw, the Lady Vikings lost 56-48 on Jan. 14 and again in a 55-54 nail-biter last week on Feb. 18.

“When you play a team three times in one season, you really learn the tendencies of a team,” said Curtis. “We struggled at times this year at the point guard position, and tonight they did a great job of pressuring our point guards. That presented some problems for us because we had a lot of difficulty getting the ball inside, which is where our bread and butter is.”

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The Lady Vikings hit five three-pointers in the second quarter and did an excellent job moving the ball around and finding open shooters. Nine players got in the scoring column for them as they assisted on 16 of 19 made baskets.

Dy’Jhanik Armfield, a junior guard from Cincinnati, Ohio, was at the head of that balanced attack, leading her squad with 13 points, while Maryan Hashim, her fellow junior guard from Detroit, Michigan, chipped in with 10.

Junior point guard NyAsia Blango, who hails from Harlowe, North Carolina, and scored 30 points in Elizabeth City State’s 76-54 win over Bowie State in the quarterfinals, was named the tournament Most Valuable player. She tied for the team-high with four assists in the championship game.

Shaw (18-14), which finished 0 of 8 from 3-point range, was led by Brittany Seymour’s nine points.

“This group of players chose ‘we’ over ‘me’,” said Lewis, unable to suppress a wide smile after the game. “It takes a village, and we have a village at the Elizabeth City State University. We fought for it, we dug it out, and I’m so appreciative of and thankful for this group.”

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Unfazed by her team’s earlier season losses to Shaw, Lewis was confident that the Lady Bears had yet to meet her team’s best version of itself. She believed they would do so in the championship game.

“I told them prior to the game that no one can beat us but us,” said Lewis. “I told them to go out there and introduce themselves to Shaw, to show them who we really are. This is a big deal, our first-ever CIAA Tournament championship. They should be proud of themselves. They made history.”