WINONA LAKE - For the tenth consecutive year, Grace College will play host to both the men’s and women’s NCCAA basketball championships this week, bringing the players, fans and coaches of 16 teams from colleges all over the country to Winona Lake and Warsaw.

Grace College became host of the women’s tournament in 2009, and in 2012 submitted a bid to become host to the men’s tourney as well. Up until that point, both NCCAA tournaments had never been held at the same venue.

“We consider it a privilege to be able host. It impacts our community in a great way but also hopefully creates a really neat championship experience for these teams,” Grace Athletic Director Chad Briscoe said. “We play 24 games on the same floor in the span of three days, and we’re the only tournament to crown two national champions on the same floor. It’s a basketball junkies dream.

“Our community reaps the benefit of heads in beds and also the economic benefit for restaurants, we hope to create the best March Madness experience possible.”

The field will have a little less local flair than usual, however. The Grace men’s team pulled off a shocking upset in the second round of the NAIA Basketball Championship over No. 2 seed Olivet Nazarene Saturday, advancing the seventh seeded Lancers to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City Thursday and causing them to have to forgo the NCCAA tourney.

The Grace Lady Lancers enter the field as a three seed, and will begin their run to NCCAA glory Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Southwestern Christian University Eagles.  The Lady Lancers head into the tournament with a 19-14 record, their last contest a loss to Roberts Wesleyan in the NCCAA Midwest regional championship Saturday.

“The focus this team has had in the last week and a half here has been off the charts. You never want to lose any game, but if you want to lose one, it’s the one we lost the other day,” Grace head coach Dan Davis said. “We have their attention now, they know what they have to do and if they don’t, they’re done.

 “We have a saying in our program, ‘do what we do,’ and this season that’s been playing defense and rebounding.  Offensively, we need to share and move the ball to get great shots.”

Last season, the Lady Lancers lost their opening game of the tournament to Concordia before winning the next two games to take fifth place. This time around, Davis isn’t comfortable playing for moral victories.

“We told them, ‘you can play for a championship or you can play for pride, make your mind up.’ Every possession matters, things will go your way, things won’t. You have to stay focused. We’ve had the same starting five in almost every game this season, so we’ve got some experience. Make your free throws, make your bunnies. It’s time to execute,” Davis said.”

Leading the way for Grace is the combination of junior guard Maddie Ryman and junior center Karlee Feldman. Ryman has led the Lady Lancers in scoring all season long as she heads into the tournament averaging 17.4 points a game. Feldman was a double-double machine for Grace this winter, averaging 14 points a contest to go along with 11.2 boards.

“Everything goes through those two, first and foremost. They get the team involved, and they get themselves involved,” Davis said.

Other key players on the team include Kiersten Poor, the team’s third leading scorer, and Kaylee Patton, the team’s Swiss Army Knife.

“We’ve had a lot of players come along late in the season, a lot of production from younger players,” Davis said. “When you have to play three games in four days, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the game for two minutes or twenty, you have to make your time count.”

Grace will have to win all three games this week to cut down the nets for the first time in program history. The Lady Lancers are making their thirteenth appearance in the last fourteen years of the tournament, and fourteenth overall.

“It gives me chills that we’re back in that moment again post-COVID, having the support in the stands. We’ve only been to two semifinals; we’ve never cut those nets down. We want to do so on our home floor. We have the opportunity to do something that’s never been done in our program before, and that’s what makes it so special,” Davis said.

The tournament tips off Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. with the last game starting at 9 p.m. Games will be run until two national champions are crowned Saturday evening. Teams that lose their opening game will be placed in a consolation bracket and battle it out for fifth place. Teams that lose in the semifinals will play for third.

“It takes a lot of people and community support for this to happen,” Briscoe said. “But we’ve been doing this for so long now that our community has embraced it, our visitors bureau is very supportive. We thank everyone for being so supportive, and I love to see the impact that’s bigger than basketball that enters our community this year."