Let me set the scene for you. On Monday evening, K-State players, coaches, media and fans, gathered inside of the home of K-State head coach, Jeff Mittie, to watch the NCAA women’s tournament selection show.
The players were seated in the middle of Mittie’s living room together, while others stood in the corners of the living room and even out on the patio. Although Mittie offered places like his pool house or other rooms in the house to watch the show, nobody wanted to leave. Everyone wanted to be with the team and experience the raw emotion that would come if the Wildcats heard their name called.
K-State, 18-12, earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament as a 9-seed, facing the 8-seed George Washington Colonials, 26-6, at 4 p.m. on Friday at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.
The relief of being picked for the tournament did not come without a little bit of suspense. Of the 64 spots given out for the NCAA Tournament, 34 were picked before K-State got the nod. Half of the tournament was picked, including the Notre Dame region where the Wildcats were predicted to end up, before the team could breathe a sigh of relief.
“You know, I was (nervous,)” Mittie said after his team earned a bid. “Having been through this, fortunately a lot of times, with this team you could see the body language change and there’s only so many spots left. We were either going to be an 8 or a 9, or possibly a 10 or 11, so there’s only so many spots left on the board.”
When ESPN moved on to the South Carolina region, those gathered all leaned in just a little closer, and listened just a little harder. There was a feeling among the crowd that this would be where the Wildcats landed.
After the 1-seed, South Carolina Gamecocks, got their matchup with the 16-seed, Jacksonville Dolphins, the next matchup revealed was the 8/9 game.
Weight was lifted off of the Wildcats’ shoulders and they finally could breathe. K-State was back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
“A lot of us expected to be in that South Bend region,” freshman guard Kayla Goth said. “So when we didn’t come up, I think the stress went up a little bit more. But when our name came up, it was definitely one of the most exciting moments.”
This tournament berth means different things for each member of the team. For a player like senior guard Megan Deines, it is one final go-round and one last shot at the NCAA Tournament.
Deines is a transfer from the University of Louisville, where she made the tournament every season and even went as far as the national championship one year. For Deines, this year has just been another great season, on top of her success she has achieved in the past.
“It’s been the cherry on top for me,” Deines said. “Especially at Louisville, getting to the national championship. Getting every little piece and then here coming in, having a bigger role and playing more minutes.”
For Goth, making the tournament as a freshman, is something that no other players, except for her two fellow freshmen on the roster, get to experience.
“It’s something you work for,” Goth said. “Each season, it’s what you want to get to and being here as a freshman and getting to do it in my first season is big. They’ve worked for it for four years and I get to be a part of it the first year.”
K-State is wasting no time in preparing for George Washington, and rightfully so. The Wildcats have only three days before they take the court.
One staff member left the Mittie estate immediately after the announcement to begin preparation for the first game this week, and possibly even a second game. And although the Wildcats are already preparing to play, there’s a little bit of excitement and enjoyment that they now get to feel.
“…I’m so happy for them that our name showed up,” Mittie said. “Because out of all the teams I’ve coached over the years, this team has come in every day and given us great effort. And even in this week of limbo where you don’t know anything, we practiced at 6 a.m. all week and they were fantastic. Most teams would be going, ‘What are we doing in here at 6 a.m.? We don’t even have an opponent yet.’ But they’ve taken the attitude of just getting better every day and they’ve been fantastic.”
It’s been a long year for K-State. A lot of ups and a lot of downs and they’re happy that their hard work finally paid off. Get excited Wildcats, you’re going dancing.