By Hayden Choate
For the first time in eight years, the Springfield College women’s basketball team is headed back to the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.
The Posse earned their first-ever at-large-bid on Monday during the unveiling of the bracket in the selection show. They will play Messiah in the first round at Ithaca College on Friday night.
“The feeling of having our name called was amazing. It shows that all our hard work has paid off throughout the season,” Amanda Carr said.
The team’s last NCAA Tournament appearance followed a NEWMAC championship from the Pride, but their fate in the national tournament was short-lived with a loss to Amherst in the first round.
This year, finishing with a record of 22-4 but losing in the NEWMAC semifinals meant getting the bid was not a guarantee.
“We’re so excited to be the first ever bid into the tournament,” Grace Dzindolet said. “I think we’ve been waiting all year to prove people wrong and we got another chance to showcase our skills this weekend.”
“To be in the NCAA Tournament feels like everything we have worked towards this season is paying off by being selected for the at-large bid,” Stephanie Lyons said. “It shows our grit to never give up and believe that we are meant for the tournament and we are meant to play against these well-rounded teams.”
All seven of the Pride’s NCAA Tournament appearances have been under head coach Naomi Graves. This includes getting past the first round three previous times in 2001, 2003 and 2005.
In 2005, Graves led her team to the Elite Eight stage of the NCAA Championship Tournament.
For Lyons, getting into the tournament and having success has been on her mind for a long time now.
“Honestly it feels like a dream which is a cliche but it does,” Lyons said. “Since my sophomore year working with Professor Accorsi and him talking about Coach Graves’ sweet 16 team and that being us now, that moment is here and we must work to get to that sweet 16, each game at a time.”
The Messiah Falcons finished the season 23-3, capturing their sixth straight MAC Commonwealth conference championship last Sunday. This is their 21st appearance in the NCAA Tournament, with the last three appearances resulting in them making it to the Sweet Sixteen. Knowing they have a tough challenge ahead of their first round matchup, the Posse are ready and optimistic to take on the Falcons.
“(We need to) to be in the moment. Each offensive, defensive possession — to be in the moment of that specific one,” Lyons said. “We know what we need to do, it’s not about basketball anymore it’s about our mindset and drive. We will play free just like we did at the beginning of the season.”
“We just have to trust each other and take it one offensive and defensive possession at a time,” Carr said. “They have some really talented posts so it will be a good chance to prove defensively we are capable of shutting them down.”
The Pride has been ranked in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and the D3hoops.com Top 25 National poll for the past 12 weeks straight. Heading into Friday’s game, they know they just need to play their game.
“We have to move the ball and make sure everyone gets a touch,” Carr said. “And just play Springfield ball like we have from the start. With the talent and love of this team there is no doubt in my mind we have a chance at success on Friday night.”
As they travel to Ithaca, the Posse is ready and excited to take in every moment of the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“(We want to) enjoy every part of being in the NCAA Tournament because like I am told, this is special and it does not happen to everyone,” Lyons said.
“It’s gonna be an awesome environment and experience to be a part of and we’re all super excited,” Dzindolet said.
The other game taking place in Ithaca is a matchup between Ithaca and Catholic. The winner of that game will take on the winner of the Springfield and Messiah game on Saturday.
Friday’s first round game between the Pride and the Falcons begins at 5 p.m.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics