JACKSON, Tenn. -- Vanguard University of Southern California became the first team west of Oklahoma to win the NAIA women's Division I tournament championship, beating Trevecca Nazarene of Tennessee 72-59 on Tuesday night.
Jessica Richter scored 12 points to lead the Lions (29-5), who were also the first team from California to reach the finals in the 28-year history of this event. Vanguard is located in Costa Mesa, Calif.
"We've had more pressure on us, and had more talent in other years," said Vanguard coach Russ Davis, whose teams had been eliminated in the last two semifinals. "But after we lost our conference championship I told our kids, 'Let's go get that [NAIA] championship banner, and do something we haven't done.'"
Trevecca Nazarene (23-12), a No. 6 seed from Nashville and the TranSouth Athletic Conference, was led by 19 points from Mariska Reed. Jennifer Bognar and K.C. Van Atta, daughter of head coach Gary Van Atta, scored 12 each.
Richter earned tournament MVP honors and finished her career with 2,007 points. Richter, who transferred after one season at Syracuse, was NAIA Player of the Year in 2007.
"The seniors had to be leaders, but the young players made it easier to have fun. They didn't let the history bother them," Richter said. "It's been an amazing ride."
The 3-point shooting of Melissa Cook helped the Lions jump to an early 12-5 lead, and they stayed in control shooting 11-of-24 from behind the arc. The Lions, from the Golden State Athletic Conference, took a 38-30 halftime lead and were up as much as a 64-49 lead on a 3-pointer by Cook with just under three minutes to play.
"We can go inside and outside, and that enables us to deal with the kind of pressure that Trevecca can give you," said Davis, whose team ended a 35-game win streak by hometown Union University in the semifinals to reach the championship.
Cook led all scorers with 25 points, and hit 6-of-10 3s to go along with 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Bridgette Reyes added 14.