STORY BY MICHAEL WENDLANDT
It’s March now: The weather is improving, the sun is shining and March Madness is in full-swing. For Drake Women’s Basketball, this is what it all comes down to. This is what they have been working towards.
The long hours in the gym, the thousands of shots taken, and all of the traveling and studying they’ve done. Women’s Basketball team will begin their postseason in St. Charles, Missouri this weekend, hoping to clinch the spot in the NCAA Tournament guaranteed to the winner of the MVC tournament.
As the second seed, Drake has had one of its best seasons ever. With players like Lizzy Wendell as the conference’s leading scorer and Caitlin Ingle, the conference assist leader, expectations are high for the Bulldogs. They made a run to the title game last year where they fell to Wichita State, and it seems likely that the two teams will meet there again this season. For coach Jennie Baranczyk, it’s all just beginning.
“We’re happy about our seed,” Baranczyk said. “We are getting better and are hoping to peak at the right time. This is a special season.”
After their best conference record since 2001-2002, the Bulldogs have big shoes to fill. That team made the Sweet Sixteen and this year’s team hopes to follow in those footsteps.
“We’re ready to play. We’re going to take these wins, but are going to get better and bring it to the tournament,” Wendell said after their victory over Loyola this past Saturday.
In the Valley, there are three clear-cut favorites. Wichita State is the top seed, with a stingy defense and a versatile offense led by MVC Player of the Year Alex Harden. Drake is second, and Missouri State is not far behind in third place after winning their final eight games.
All three teams have a good chance at taking home the title, and only time will tell what will come to pass. But, like every single-elimination tournament, anything can happen.
Missouri State will take on Indiana State Friday night, while Wichita State will face Loyola. Drake will match up with seventh-seeded Evansville, who defeated Illinois State 55-51 on Thursday night.
“It’s time to go for it,” freshman center Becca Jonas said. “We feel we can be the champions.”
If Drake wins on Friday, they will play Saturday afternoon in the semi-finals, leaving them just two wins away from the big dance. Friday’s game will tip-off at 6:05 p.m. at the Family Arena in St. Charles and will be broadcast on ESPN3.
This has been a historic season for the Bulldogs, and the team hopes to truly make it something special and rival the success of their predecessors in 2002.