W. bball No. 3 in tourney | The Triangle

W. bball No. 3 in tourney

The Drexel women’s basketball team will head to this year’s Colonial Athletic Association Tournament March 9-11 in Upper Marlboro, Md.

With three straight wins against The College of William & Mary, Towson University and Virginia Commonwealth University, Drexel finished the regular season with a 16-12 overall record (12-6 CAA).

In addition to the successful momentum heading into the postseason, those three wins bumped Drexel into the No. 3 seed and a subsequent first-round bye for the aforementioned CAA Tournament. While the tournament starts March 8, the competition begins for Drexel March 9.

For head coach Denise Dillon, the end-of-season wins were significant for her team’s success. “They were huge,” Dillon said in an interview before leaving for Maryland. “We talked to the team about controlling their own destiny. Our goal from the beginning was to finish in the top four and get that bye. With the motivation of seeing where we stood with three games left, the girls really came together to do what was necessary to win the big ones.”

Moving into the tournament, each game becomes far bigger in terms of importance. The stakes are considerably raised because the winner of the tournament earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. With that said, it’s a fair assumption that the games will get harder and teams will bring their all on the court.

The Dragons will play the winner of the VCU-William & Mary game March 9, and regardless of who they play, the matchup will be intense.

“The first game is the toughest one,” Dillon said. “You have that pressure of wanting to advance, [and] you have that added pressure of facing two teams who you have beaten twice. It’s tough to beat a team three times.”

If Drexel does, in fact, win the CAA Tournament, it would be the second time in four years for the Dragons. Their CAA Tournament triumph in 2009 was the first for Drexel (in any sport) since Drexel entered the CAA in 2001. This also marked the first time the team appeared in the NCAA Tournament since entering Division I 27 years earlier. As No. 12 that year, they lost to No. 5 Kansas State University in the Raleigh regional.

Given the team’s history, the opportunity that lies before them is not at all lost on Dillon or her players.

“It’s a goal for our seniors to go out on top with the CAA championship again, as they did this when they were freshmen,” Dillon said.

One advantage that this team has over its adversaries in the CAA is depth. With leading scorers such as senior Kamile Nacickaite (17.2 point percentage), junior Hollie Mershon (14.8 points per game) and senior Tyler Hale (8.2 ppg), the added benefits that come with a deep bench have to be utilized.

“We’ve gone nine, 10 deep this season,” Dillon said. “You need your other players to continue to do what they’ve done this season. It’s a great advantage so long as the players are contributing. The defensive stops are key, [and] baskets at the right time are important when it comes to playoff basketball. They have to contribute.”

Ultimately for Drexel, a unique and tantalizing opportunity lies ahead. Coupled with the accomplishments of the men’s basketball team this year (27-6 overall record, 19 straight wins, narrowly missing out on the CAA title with a 59-56 loss to VCU in the conference final March 5), Drexel has a chance to have both its men’s and women’s basketball teams in the NCAA Tournament.

This is an opportunity that excites Dillon and gives her great pride.

“It would be great for this university to get both [men’s and women’s] teams in,” Dillon said. “I’m confident that the men will get an at-large bid with the success that they have had this season, and they’re well deserving of it. To have both teams finish with postseason play in the NCAA Tournament, there’s nothing greater.”