BEREA, Ohio — After an early-round upset loss in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, the Baldwin Wallace University women’s basketball team was set to conduct their end-of-the-season meetings and collect their uniforms, but a funny thing happened on the way to those sessions.
The Yellow Jackets (19-7) were awarded an at-large bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament and will start postseason play against Rochester Tech out of the Liberty League in a first-round game at Messiah University of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania tonight.
“For all intents and purposes, the way I put it is, it was not impossible, but very improbable that we would be playing this week,” veteran coach Cheri Harrer told WKYC.com in an exclusive interview. “I actually charted every turnover we had during the season to figure out what our trend was so I could start looking at things for next year. We really did think we were finished.”
Over the weekend, Harrer paid close attention to the results of the other teams in the Great Lakes Region, and the Yellow Jackets needed the higher-ranked teams to avoid any potential upsets in postseason conference tournaments, which is exactly how it played out.
After that happened, Harrer gathered the team in a conference room at The Lou Higgins Center on campus to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Special, and the players erupted in celebration when “Baldwin Wallace” appeared on the bracket.
“I’ve never seen a group of kids more naturally elated than this group,” Harrer said. “Actually, a former D-I coach texted me, she saw it and said, ‘the kids’ reaction was priceless,’ and that’s a great way to put it. The sheer joy and tears of joy, kids literally crying tears of joy when they saw their name called is pretty cool.
“I felt like if we got to the national board, our strength of schedule and our record against regionally ranked teams and teams already in it would pretty good going up against those other teams. Getting out of our region and on the national board would be our biggest challenge, and when that played out the way it did, we started thinking this could happen.”
At multiple points throughout the season, the Yellow Jackets were besieged by injuries, including losing star player Hannah Fecht for the balance of the year to a broken wrist. However, when the Yellow Jackets returned from a tournament trip to Holland, Michigan, they overcame the injuries to beat Mount Union by 17 points.
Then, after a three-game losing streak, the Yellow Jackets won seven of their last eight regular-season games.
“We came into the Mount Union game without five of our top kids, and we found a way to beat Mount Union,” Harrer said. “It was at home, but still, I’m starting to think, ‘Just maybe this group has something special.’”
That something special proved to be an at-large berth into the postseason, which snapped a four-year drought for Baldwin Wallace. However, while everyone in the program feels great about the at-large bid, they are far from happy to be there.
“I just keep thinking the last time we were in a similar situation, I can’t remember who we played first, we played somebody first and then, we had York, who was a top-10 team with only one loss on the year, and we ended up being in the Sweet 16,” Harrer said.
“That doesn’t mean history is going to repeat itself, but I think it’s a pod where anything can happen in that same direction.”