ST. BONAVENTURE — The suspense was prevalent, but it didn’t take long for the celebration to begin.
Mere minutes into the first bracket revealed Monday night on ESPN, it popped up: “10. ST. BONAVENTURE (23-7).” The No. 10 seed in the bracket that contains No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Oregon State.
Coach Jim Crowley admitted he was caught a little off guard by the bid but was pleasantly surprised.
The current senior class of Nyla Rueter, Emily Michael, Kelcie Rombach and Katie Healy entered St. Bonaventure a year after the magical 2011-12 season that had current assistant coach Jessica Jenkins as its star player.
“The way these guys came in, having that kind of pressure over their heads, which was unfair,” Crowley said. “If you told me a year ago this would be happening, anyone here would have told you that you’re nuts. But they worked so hard and they fully committed. To get an at-large bid, we know very real how tough that is. I’m so proud of this whole team. They put so much time in and gave up so much. It’s nice to see them rewarded. I got a little emotional, but then it kicked in – we have a game to get ready for.”
Bona didn’t get the best of site locations, as the team will head way west to Corvallis, Oregon (2,500-plus miles away) and will meet No. 7 Oklahoma State out of the Big 12 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time (4:30 Pacific) Friday night on ESPN2. The winner will play either No. 2 Oregon State or No. 15 Troy on Saturday with the overall segment winner advancing to the Sweet 16 in Dallas the following weekend.
The Cowgirls finished the season 21-9, suffering a defeat to Oklahoma in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament (similar to what Bona did against VCU). On Dec. 30, Oklahoma State beat Baylor, 52-45, which was Baylor’s only loss of the 2015-16 season. Oklahoma State’s top two scorers combined for 35 points a game.
“They get to the rim really well,” Crowley said of Oklahoma State. “They play in a terrific conference. This time of year there will be no gimmes. It’s going to be a great matchup, a great challenge for us. We’re giving them a ton of respect, but we’re going to do what we do for whoever we play. We’re going to be the best us we can be. It’s about how hard you play and how well you play to your strengths. We’ll prepare like we normally do.”
As their male counterparts had to do the night before, the women had to hope the NCAA Selection Committee liked their resume enough to give them an at-large bid. This committee obliged. St. Bonaventure’s RPI of 34 and 3-2 record against RPI 1-25 earned a spot in the field of 64.
“Our body of work is really good,” Crowley said. “We won 23 games, including 16 in a row. We beat three conference champions. Having the really good wins we had in February. We played a good non-conference schedule. We beat some teams. It wasn’t one particular thing, it was a full body of work.
“The Duquesne game (Feb. 28, a 60-48 win at the Reilly Center) helped us specifically,” Crowley continued. “Duquesne is a great team and the way we played and to show winnability against great competition. Thankfully, we were able to be rewarded for that.”
Healy and her fellow seniors all admitted shock and being at a loss for words when their name popped up. The scene was set in the Hall of Fame Room, as the team celebrated among themselves and school administration, including Sister Margaret.
“We just saw our name and we ran to each other,” Healy said. “We didn’t know what seed we were. We didn’t even look at the screen. We got up and got to each other right away. It’s unreal. We’re so proud of what we’ve done this year, and we’re happy to be there.”
When the women left Richmond on Saturday, March 5 after suffering a Atlantic 10 quarterfinal loss to VCU a day prior, things were unclear.
For the team, the path to get to this point began last spring.
“We saw a lot of more out of them,” Crowley said. “I wouldn’t say I thought we could get in, but we thought we could be really competitive because of what they did in spring and summer. But 365 days ago, hell no. This seemed unrealistic at the end of last year.”
Michael added, “Since then we’ve had a really locked in mindset to give all we have, give ourselves the best chance to be as successful as possible, no matter where that ended up. We see how much hard work, coming together and wanting it for each other led to great things.”
The Atlantic 10 received three bids to the tournament. League champion George Washington (26-6) is the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Kansas State on Friday, with the winner facing No. 1 South Carolina. League runner up Duquesne (27-5) earned a No. 9 seed and will meet No. 8 Seton Hall on Saturday, with the winner going up against top-seeded Connecticut (32-0) in Storrs, Conn.
“It’s a great league, and we know how deep it is,” Crowley said. “Great coaches and great players in our league, and it’s prepared us very well. We look forward to representing the league the best we can.”
The Buffalo women (20-13), by virtue of its MAC championship, received the league’s automatic bid. The Bulls will meet No. 3 Ohio State (24-7) on Friday at 2:30 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio. Two of Bona’s non-conference opponents, DePaul and James Madison, will meet in a 6-vs.-11 game in Bona’s quarter of the bracket on Friday. in Louisville.