Gabbie Miller (SR/Kiefer, Okla.), her Kansas Wesleyan teammates and coaches could finally exhale.
After a tumultuous regular season that included two forfeits, the Coyotes attained their biggest goal to date when they received an at-large bid to the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Championships on Wednesday night.
The tournament will be played March 6-12 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. It will be the Coyotes’ first appearance in the national tournament since the 2010-11 season.
Wesleyan was awarded the No. 7 seeded in the Cramer quadrant and will play second-seeded College of the Ozarks (Mo.) in the first round. The teams will meet next Thursday, March 7, at 8:45 p.m.
“I feel like this team deserved it, especially this group of seniors” said Miller, a senior forward. “We’ve done everything we’ve ever been asked. To get in with the forfeit losses and everything feels really good.”
The Coyotes are 21-11 overall, but were 23-9 in the games they played. KWU finished third in the Kansas Conference behind champion Tabor and runner-up Sterling and lost to Sterling 94-88 in the semifinals of the KCAC tournament Saturday in Sterling.
Miller said the at-large bid is redemption.
“Had we not had those forfeited game we would have been there originally and feels nice that we get to go and have a chance to prove ourselves,” she said.
KWU coach Ryan Showman, who was an assistant on the 2010-11 team, said the bid is a second chance for his squad.
“It’s some new life, some new wind under our sails, it’s a brand new season for us,” he said.
“We get to finish our season, we get to have some of that closure and we get a chance to make a run at something we haven’t been able to do for almost a decade. We’re just really, really excited.”
Showman, who’s in his seventh season, credited KCAC officials for promoting the Coyotes’ cause.
“I have to give a lot of credit to our conference rater, (coach) Shawn Reed at Tabor College,” he said. “He did a great job really selling our situation and the kind of team that we are and the kind of season we had. That really helped and went a long ways on a national level.”
Showman said the Coyotes would watch film and and practice later Wednesday night after taking some time off after the conference tournament.
“We’ve had three days off, we’ve got to go,” he said. “We’re going to run up and down and kind of break a sweat and really start preparing (Thursday).”
College of the Ozarks enters the tournament with a 29-3 record after winning the independent tournament championship 88-65 over Indiana Northwest on Sunday.
Wesleyan last played Ozarks in the opening game of the 2016-17 season, a 90-72 loss at Point Lookout, Mo. The Coyotes defeated Ozarks 75-63 in the second game of the 2015-16 season at Mabee Arena.
Showman said Ozarks will present a difficult a challenge.
“Top 10 team annually, they’re very well coached, they’re going to play hard,” he said. “Anything we get offensively we’re going to earn because they are so good defensively.
“They have the ability to score from anywhere, they’re methodical, they’re going to execute you to death, but they can get out and run. It’s a typical (coach) Becky Mullis team.”
The Wesleyan-Ozarks winner will play either No. 3 seeded Hastings (Neb.) or No. 6 Aquinas (Mich.) in the second round.
Showman said his team’s resilience was rewarded with the bid.
“That’s who we are,” he said. “We’re gritty, we can win pretty, we can win ugly, we’re going to defend, we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.
“I’m so excited to lead this team one more time here in the first round.”
“It’s something we’ve worked for since our freshman year,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.”
Tabor plays Corban (Ore.) and Sterling takes on Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) in the first round.