On the heels of a perfect season and two wins over Wells College and Messiah College, the FDU women’s basketball team is on its way to the Sweet 16. The Devils will face off against Baldwin Wallace University of Berea, Ohio, on Friday.
Monday, March 3, was the day the women’s basketball team was waiting for since last year when it ended a great season with a first round loss in the NCAA tournament. The Rutherford Room, in the Ferguson Recreation Center, was the scene. It was empty at first, as most of the players started to shuffle in at about 2 p.m., with the selection show slated to begin at 2:30. The show was a half-hour away and the team was on edge.
Junior forward Delisha Thompson was one of the first women from the team in the room, constantly refreshing her computer to look for any updates.
“I’m excited, super excited,” Thompson said about waiting to see where and against whom she and the rest of the Freedom Conference champions would be playing.
A few minutes passed as the computer was set up for the projector so the whole room could watch the show. Some more women from the team arrived, and they looked just as anxious as the ones before them.
“I’m really excited. We are really motivated; we got to the first round last year so we know what it’s like,” said Jalessa Lewis, senior point guard and team captain. “It’s not like last year when it was our first time. We know what to expect.”
The rest of the team and coaching staff made their way in and were sitting at the big wooden table in the middle of the room with all their eyes glued to the 80-inch projector screen.
“I’m very excited,” said Rachel Groom, sophomore center and Freedom Conference Tournament MVP. “Last year we didn’t go as far as we wanted to go so we’re excited to see when and where we are playing so we can go far.”
As the show got closer and closer the team got more and more excited. Five minutes to go. Three minutes to go. One minute to go.
“Welcome to the 2014 Women’s Division III basketball selection show,” the host said, as the team and everyone else in the room shouted and clapped. As they started to read down the bracket, the Devils’ region was first up. The Devils watched anxiously as they waited for their team to be called.
“Next up is our first of three undefeated teams in the field, Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham. The 27-0 Devils are looking to make a deep run in the tournament after getting bounced in the first round last year. They will be playing Wells College from Aurora, New York,” the host said as the entire room got up and literally jumped for joy.
There were high fives, hugs and kisses going around the room as the Devils finally got the news they were hoping for. They would be playing a NCAA tournament game at home for the first time in school history.
“It’s nice to be playing at home, but it doesn’t really matter where we play,” Coach Marc Mitchell said after the announcement. “We did work very hard to gain a home court advantage and I think we deserve it.”
Mitchell also discussed the rest of the bracket the Devils would be playing in. “Those are some fantastic teams,” he said.
Mitchell must have prepared his team really well, as the Devils beat Wells College, 106-45, on Friday, March 7. Junior guard Leigh-Ann Lively led the way with 19 points.
Next up was Messiah College from the other side of the Middle Atlantic Conference, which also won its opening game of the tournament, beating Randolph-Macon, 91-62, in the first of the two games at the Ferguson Recreation Center.
“Messiah, who just won the commonwealth side of our conference and were conference champs, are a fantastic team,” Mitchell said on Monday, before tournament play began. “They have been a perennial power for years so we need to come prepared.”
Messiah proved to be a tougher opponent than Wells, as most of the game was back and forth, with lead changes going from one side to the other throughout the first half. Both teams entered the half tied up at 28 points apiece.
However, in the second half, the Devils rallied around one of the new faces on the team. Shalette Brown, a sophomore forward who just transferred to FDU this year, exploded in the second half.
Brown finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds as she helped the Devils push to a convincing 79-66 victory over Messiah.
“The whole point in playing is to win a national championship,” Mitchell said last week after the selection show. “We clearly remember how we lost last year in the NCAA tournament, and we certainly will not make that mistake again.”
It looks like the Devils, with their confident coach and their talented roster, will try and make a run to the Final Four.
The quest has begun, but it is not over, as they still need four more victories to claim the title.
Now 29-0, the Devils will take on the Yellow Jackets of Baldwin Wallace on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Ferguson Recreation Center. That game will follow a Montclair State University-University of Scranton match-up scheduled for 5 p.m.