As the Kansas State women’s basketball team waited to learn its NCAA tournament destination, it felt a little like last year when the team was unsure of its postseason fate, even though the players knew a berth was almost a sure thing this year.
“It’s something that I dreamed about as a little girl,” junior point guard Karyla Middlebrook said. “Sitting here, waiting for our names, I wasn’t as nervous as some of the other girls, but when I knew that, ‘OK, this has to be us, this has to be us.’ It was overwhelming. I didn’t really expect it to be such an overwhelming feeling.”
This time, the wait produced a sweeter reward: at least one more home game. No. 7 seed K-State will face No. 10 seed Drake at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Bramlage Coliseum. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
“I was more excited that we were hosting, I think, because I knew that we would be in it,” Wesemann said. “It kind of got nerve-wracking because we were one of the last teams in there. (Bre Lewis) was grabbing my hand really hard … it was awesome. It was a great experience, and I’m very happy.”
The Wildcats knew they were headed to the big dance this year, but that didn’t ease their nerves much.
“We’re back in Bramlage. I never thought I would say that again,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a great experience for our team. Especially the seniors, just to have our home crowd and to just be home and to be able to embrace playing in Bramlage again.”
Middlebrook laughingly said she served as a calming force among her teammates during the waiting process.
“I was kind of the voice of reason, my teammates said, because they were all like, ‘What if they forgot about us?’ she said. “I’m like, ‘Guys, it’s OK. We came into this ranked in the top 25, I’m sure they did not forget about us.’ But all the while, just trying to swallow my own nerves.”
Even though Middlebrook is a college basketball veteran, having previously played three seasons at Alabama, this is her first NCAA tournament.
“Coach (Jeff) Mittie mentioned that the nerves will be new,” she said. “It’s always going to be an exciting time. I don’t know what to expect, but I know it will be a good time.”
Mittie feels playing elite teams like UConn, Baylor and Texas prepared his team to potentially face No. 2 seed Stanford in the second round.
“We do have people in our league (who) have won national championships,” he said. “So we face that. The 18-game schedule, I think, prepares you for that.”
But first, the Wildcats have to get there. Drake. Drake earned an automatic bid to the tournament by beating Northern Illinois, 74-69, to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship and averages just over 83.1 points per game. The Bulldogs feature four players who average in double figures, led by Lizzy Wendell, who averages 21.1 points per game. Becca Hittner (12.4), Caitlin Ingle (10.4) and Sammie Bachrodt (10.3) also average in double figures, whole Hittner also leads the team in rebounding with 6.1 boards per game.
“Good balanced team,” Mittie said of Drake. “A team that passes the ball really well, scores it really well.”
Wendell is a close friend of Middlebrook from high school, and Wesemann knows some of the players.
Wesemann feels the team has done a good job of staying focused throughout the season.
“There’s sometimes that people get ahead of themselves and start thinking and start thinking about things they shouldn’t necessarily think about or having stresses outside of basketball that carry over into practice that shouldn’t,” she said. “But I think our team is really good about (staying focused).”
Mittie said he knows there’s distractions that come with both home and away games, but he reminded his team to focus on basketball.
“It was just the message of let’s enjoy this but control what you can control to prepare the best way that you can,” he said.
Lewis is excited she doesn’t have the stress of traveling, but she is mostly happy to be back in the tournament for a second straight year. Last year’s team beat George Washington, 56-51, in the first round in Columbia, South Carolina, before losing, 73-47, to South Carolina in the second round.
“Last year, we got to the NCAA tournament, it was a great accomplishment,” she said. “We made it to the second round, even better … the feeling that you have overall, just knowing it’s a few teams competing right now (and) you’re one of them, it’s going to be great.”