Lubbock Christian: No. 1 on court and in classroom
One dollar tacos. Netflix. Good grades. A phony fire alarm and winning national titles.
Welcome to "this is the life" of the Lubbock Christian women’s basketball team, as it charges into the 2021-22 season with two consecutive NCAA Division II championships and a 35-game winning streak.
One possible fuel for the streak: The Chaparrals can often be found enjoying $1 taco Tuesdays at Mar y Tierra in Lubbock. Tex-Mex brings them together.
“We love Mexican food,” fifth-year senior Ashton Duncan said. “Chips and salsa. Chips and queso.”
In March, LCU capped a 23-0 season with its third NCAA Division II title with a 66-59 win over No. 2 Drury. Senior Allie Schulte led the way with 18 points to earn most outstanding player.
The victory gave LCU the honor of being the first Division II program to complete two undefeated seasons with national championships. LCU’s title this year, following championships in 2016 and 2019 under coach Steve Gomez, also gave the Chaps the distinction of being the fifth Division II team to win a title in consecutive tournaments and the fifth program to win three titles overall.
“We’ve made a lot of lucky shots,” joked Gomez, a 1988 LCU graduate and former Chaps player. “Honestly, we’re in a part of the state, west Texas, where girls high school basketball is really good. We find the right players from high school coaches and kids who know how to work together and try to collect those kids.”
LCU was 35-0 in 2015-16, the first year it was an eligible Division II member after moving up from NAIA. Gomez was named the Division II coach of the year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
In addition to finding the right players, Gomez and his staff also find excellent student-athletes. In July, LCU was recognized by the WCBA for having the top grade-point-average in all of Division II.
The Chaps’ 3.783 GPA tied for ninth-best among women’s basketball teams at all NCAA levels: Division I, Division II and Division III.
While Schulte said LCU professors work with and help the athletes, classmate Ashton Duncan said flat out: it’s not easy being a Division II athlete and balancing academics and sports.
“If we show we care, and we all do, because obviously to play collegiate sports you can’t have your GPA below a certain number or you are ineligible,” Duncan said. “There’s an expectation, I think, that we always put on ourselves. We always have team goals at the beginning of each year, and our GPA is always on there.”
Duncan, who will have a fifth year of eligibility and play as a graduate student (allowed because of COVID-19), was selected as LCU’s nominee for the 2021 NCAA Division II Woman of the Year Award. Started in 1991, the NCAA Woman of the Year Award recognizes graduating female college athletes who have completed their NCAA eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership throughout college.
Duncan is from Lubbock, and is the daughter of Chaps’ men’s coach Todd Duncan. She is one of 107 woman of the year nominees in Division II.
While recruiting and collecting good kids, good players and good students, Gomez has also apparently collected some characters.
“Yeah, we’re weird,” said Schulte, who will also play a fifth year in 2021-22. For example, in October 2020, after playing a scrimmage on Halloween against Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Colo. junior Channing Cunyus thought she’d have a little fun with teammates Ashton Duncan and Audrey Robertson.
Turns out it was time for tricks in a Colorado hotel, and Cunyus is the clown on the team.
“She’s just goofy,” Duncan said. “She just says the right things at the right time that makes everyone laugh, and it’s just like ‘how did your mind even go there?’”
Robertson was asleep in the hotel room she shared with Duncan, and Duncan was close to it when she a ruckus in the hall. Footsteps. Yelling. Cunyus pounded on Duncan’s door and yelled “the hotel’s on fire, we gotta get out right now.”
The hotel was not on fire. But Duncan didn’t know that. She reacted by waking Robertson, and the young women packed up all our “stuff in less than a minute,” according to Duncan, and bolted from the room.
They wisely went to the stairs. “You can’t use an elevator in a fire,” Duncan notes. They arrived in the empty and quiet lobby about 1 a.m. as an interesting sight to other guests walking into the hotel.
“They were like ‘what are you doing?’” Duncan said. “We’re like ‘where is everyone? They looked at us like we were crazy.”
The other LCU players were upstairs, hanging out. Schulte said she quickly figured out there was no threat to their safety. Schulte is the calm one on the team. Gomez and the other coaches also were not alarmed.
“In fight or flight, I’m flight so I was getting out of there,” Duncan recalled.
The Chaps are a tight group. They live in three neighboring apartments on campus. The apartments are a gathering spot, a place to hang out or watch Netflix.
When they have some extra energy, after basketball and studying, some of the players have also started playing racquetball at the LCU recreation center.
Neither Schulte nor Duncan thought they would play college basketball. Schulte is from Nazareth, Texas. Both women said they were a little burned out with the sport, and it wasn’t a huge priority.
But Schulte said her brother encouraged her to continue playing because it was something he regretted not doing. For her part, Duncan eventually decided it could be good for her, plus enrolling at LCU meant she could remain in Lubbock, where she could still see her family.
“I thought about it, prayed about it and I never really looked anywhere else after that,” Schulte said. “Because I loved LCU.”
Prayer and faith are important to the LCU players as a group. The team holds Bible study sessions. Gomez reads a Bible verse to the players and relates the passage to their conversations and meetings. Duncan said on the back of their shooting shirts is the phrase: “Glory to God.”
The words are more to the players than a one-season slogan or theme. Duncan and Schulte said the LCU players want to live the words. They don’t want Lubbock Christian to be a Christian school in name only.
“We want to walk it out,” Duncan said. “Walk the walk, talk the talk. That is a big deal to us. Glory to God is our ultimate goal in anything. Whether we win or lose we just want people to see why we play the game, why we work hard, or why we do what we do.”