WINONA, Minn. — It’s been a nerve-wracking 48 hours for Saint Mary’s University women’s basketball coach Mandy Pearson and her Cardinal squad.
CAPTION: Octavia Brown in action against the University of St. Thomas on Saturday. Photo by Chris Ebert.
SMU’s heartbreaking loss to St. Thomas in the championship game of the MIAC Tournament last Saturday meant that the Tommies earned the conference’s automatic berth into the upcoming NCAA Division III national tournament — and left the Cardinals waiting and hoping for one of the available at-large berths.
That wait ended at 1:43 p.m. — and when the Cardinals’ name was announced during Monday’s NCAA selection show, the wait all seemed worth it.
The Cardinals will head to Oshkosh, Wis., to face the host UW-Oshkosh Titans in one of two regional semifinals on Friday. Washington (Mo.) University and Northwestern (Minn.) will square off in the other semifinal, with the two winners meeting on Saturday. Game times are yet to be determined.
“Everyone’s excited and really motivated to keep this season going,” said Coach Person. “It’s good to finally know that we are in the tournament — and now we can get back to work and start preparing for Friday’s game against Oshkosh.”
The Cardinals, who claimed the program’s third MIAC regular-season title — and their first since the 1985-86 season — head into post-season play with a 24-3 overall record, with two of those three losses coming at the hands of national tournament-bound St. Thomas.
Fueled by a 16-game winning streak — three shy of the program record for consecutive victories — SMU’s 24 wins this season equaled the school record for wins in a season, originally set during the 1984-85 season (24-2) and matched a year later in 1985-86 (24-3).
Courtney Euerle (Litchfield, Minn.) leads the way for the Cardinals, as the senior forward — who has scored 20 or more points in four of the team’s last five games — enters NCAA tournament play with team highs in points (13.4 ppg) and rebounds (7.4 rpg). Euerle equaled her career high with 22 points against St. Thomas in the MIAC Tournament title game, the third time in a 14-day span that she has netted 22 points.
Bridget Pethke (New London, Wis.) and Shelby Auseth (Wanamingo, Minn.) also head into their first-ever national tournament appearance averaging in double figures at 10.8 ppg and 10.7 ppg, respectively, while Darcey Rice (Eagan, Minn.) has drained a team-leading 55 of SMU’s 161 3-pointers.
“We’re very excited to reach the tournament, but we’re also not satisfied to just make the tournament,” Pearson noted. “Hopefully we can make a good run, but we’re not going to change our approach — we’re going to take things one day, one game at a time.”