- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) - Clutching scissors in her right hand, Akron coach Jodi Kest steadied herself as she began climbing the ladder propped open underneath the basket.

Once she got high enough, Kest snipped the last strand of the dangling net, yanked it off the rim and waved the nylon souvenir above her head.

It took 40 years, but the Zips were finally on top of the Mid-American Conference.

“It’s so sweet,” Kest said. “Sweeter than I even imagined.”

Rachel Tecca scored 30 points and dominated inside, leading Akron into the NCAA tournament for the first time with a 79-68 win over Ball State in the MAC championship Saturday.

Tecca, who scored 20 in the first half, added 12 rebounds for the third-seeded Zips (23-9), who started the season 4-4 but have won 16 of 17 and will enter the NCAAs as one of the nation’s hottest teams. With their first MAC title, Akron also tied a school record for wins in the program’s 40th year.

It’s been a long ascent for Akron, which endured seven consecutive losing seasons - including a 1-27 mark in 2001-02 - before Kest arrived and turned the Zips around.

“People thought I was crazy to take this job,” Kest said. “But my kids are just like me. They love the challenge.”

The Zips led by 25 in the second half and withstood a late rally by the fifth-seeded Cardinals (18-16), who were playing their fifth game in six days.

Brittany Carter made five 3-pointers in the last eight minutes and led Ball State 23 points. Brandy Woody added 15 and Nathalie Fontaine 14 for the Cardinals.

Ball State had knocked off top-seeded Bowling Green in the semis and won four games in the tournament, but the Cardinals didn’t have nearly enough to take down Akron.

Their biggest problem was Tecca.

A three-time All-MAC selection, Tecca capped her stellar career with the tournament’s MVP award and by carrying the Zips to a long-awaited title.

The 6-foot-1 senior from Tallmadge drove past Ball State defenders whenever she wanted, and if she couldn’t find an opening, Tecca simply stepped outside and knocked down shots. She finished 13 of 19 from the floor.

“Our team set program history today,” Tecca said. “This is something no one here has ever done. This is a moment we’ll never forget. I’ll always cherish being part of this.”

Story Continues →