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Former Manhattan Christian star Eliana Kuperus savoring NAIA national title with Dordt

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Posted at 8:20 AM, Mar 28, 2024

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Despite deep postseason runs from Carroll and Providence, a Montana team didn’t take home an NAIA national championship on Tuesday night.

But one Montana player did.

Manhattan Christian product Eliana Kuperus is a junior forward for the Dordt Defenders, and played a key role in the Defenders' 57-53 win over the University of Providence in the NAIA title game.

She scored six points and grabbed four rebounds.

“We worked so hard for this the whole season and at the beginning of the season, our coaches told us to prepare ourselves for that last Tuesday in Sioux City,” Kuperus said. “And here we are in the last Tuesday. National champs. It's just hard to believe.”

Kuperus had a standout career at Manhattan Christian under head coach Jeff Bellach. She averaged 13.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a senior and claimed all-state honors.

She started her career on the Dordt JV team but improved and worked her way into the Defenders rotation.

“I played the scout team. So I practiced with the varsity, which was an awesome and formative experience. That was the last time that they went to the national championship,” Kuperus said. “And then last year I had a smaller role with the varsity. This year it was a little bit more and then a couple of people got hurt and so I got more opportunities and it's just been awesome.”

She’s the only active player on the Dordt roster not from Iowa or South Dakota. So how did a Class C star from Montana end up in America’s heartland?

“So my sister and my brother actually went to Dordt so it's kind of like a family thing,” Kuperus said. “And then I just love the community aspect of it and the basketball program.”

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Eliana Kuperus

But Kuperus is still very much a Montanan at heart. She received a massive outpouring of support from her hometown during the Defenders' run to the title.

“My parents kept telling me that tons of people are watching and a lot of community members have texted me,” she said. “And it's awesome to know there's lots of people watching from back home, especially when they can't come to all these games.”

From Class C to the class of the country; Kuperus didn’t take a straightforward path to the NAIA title. But it was the right one for her.

“It’s hard to believe. Like going from a small school in Montana with just 25 kids in your class to winning a national title,” Kuperus said. “I don't even have words to describe it, honestly.”