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Cross celebrates this year’s only national championship

MONACA, Pa. — Former Columbiana High School girls basketball standout Alexis Cross knew her University of Penn State-Beaver team was going to be good entering this season, but she couldn’t have imagined that they would make history.

On Wednesday, March 11, Nittany Lions defeated Central Maine Community College 79-61 to claim the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II national title.

That very same night, the NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The next day brought a wave of cancellations across the sports world, including the NCAA Divisions I, II and III and NAIA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Five days later, the USCAA canceled its Division I basketball championship games.

When the dust settled, Penn St.-Beaver was left as the only college women’s basketball team to be crowned national champions for the 2019-2020 season.

“It’s just crazy to think about how everything happened, it feels a little surreal,” Cross said.

The Nittany Lions had just put the finishing touches on their title when news began to accelerate.

“It was literally like 30 minutes after the game we got an email telling people not to come back to campus,” Cross said. “On our bus ride back we started seeing other stuff getting canceled, that’s when you started to realize how significant this was.”

Upon arriving back at campus, the team members gathered their things and quickly dispersed to their homes in other parts of the country.

“That was the last night we were all together,” Cross said. “The school was on spring break at the time, but they were supposed to have a parade for us after everyone got back. That’s obviously canceled now, they might do something next year.”

Beaver finished 27-4 overall and claimed the Penn State University Athletic Conference title, earning an automatic bid to the USCAA Small College National Championship Tournament under head coach Tim Moore, who was in the first season of his second stint with the team.

“We had everyone back from the year before and we were excited about our coach so I was pretty confident,” Cross said. “Our goal was to win the conference title. Once we got to the national tournament, we just kept repeating ‘Three more games,'”

The Lions won their three USCAA Tournament games by an average of 14.3 points with Cross scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the title game.

“We were able to stay really consistent over the course of the year, which is hard to do,” Cross said. “Everyone was really hungry to win.”

Cross, who helped the Clippers to four straight conference titles and an unbeaten regular season and school-best 25-1 record in the 2016-17 campaign, has thrived in her two seasons as a guard for Penn St.-Beaver.

She was a first-team USCAA All-American and earned her second straight PSUAC first-team selection. Cross started 30 games for the Lions, averaging 14.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. She scored a season-high 29 points on Dec. 3 in an 87-63 win over Penn State-Fayette and followed up with 22 points a week later against Penn St-Du Bois.

She was named as one of the team’s captains at the start of this season.

“That (being named as a captain) really helped my confidence,” Cross said. “I think my game got more well-rounded this year. When I came in last season, most of the focus was on shooting threes. This year’s offense was more structured, I was driving to the basket a lot more.”

Like everyone else for the last few weeks, Cross has been stuck at home trying to stay busy.

“I’ve been taking my classes online using Zoom,” Cross said. “They have it set up so that the lectures are at the same time they normally would be if we were on campus. It’s nice having somewhat of a normal schedule, but it’s harder for other people. We have some students from California and they have to wake up at 5 a.m. for an 8 a.m. class.”

Upon reflecting on the season, Cross appreciated how fortunate her team was.

“There’s a lot of teams that never even got the chance to play in their tournaments this year,” Cross said. “I’m just happy we were able to finish our season.”

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