The Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball team gathered at coach Mandy Pearson’s Duluth home Sunday night to watch the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Selection Show.
The Bulldogs already knew where they were playing — the regional site predetermined — but they didn’t know who they were playing.
Well, they do now.
Third-seeded UMD (13-1) will play sixth-seeded Emporia State (18-6) Friday at the Central Region tournament in Warrensburg, Missouri, with the semifinals the next day.
Senior guard Ann Simonet said the Bulldogs want to finish this season on the court after having their regional tournament shut down right before it was about to start last year due to COVID-19.
“It’s just exciting that we get to keep playing,” Simonet said. “We were actually in Missouri that first night last year and coach sent us a text, ‘Can everyone come to my room.’ She didn’t even really have to announce it. We all kind of knew when we got that text. That was pretty difficult news. We had flown in that day before and drove back that next night.”
That was a long drive.
“Whenever people say, ‘You don’t know when your last game will be,’ that was definitely an incident that applied to that scenario,” Simonet said. “We’re just excited that we get to keep playing together this year. This year’s definitely been a long one, even if it’s been a short season in terms of games. We’re excited that we made it this far.”
Top-seeded Fort Hays State (22-3) and second-seeded Nebraska-Kearney (22-3) will have first-round byes in what is a six-team regional this year.
Fourth-seeded Central Missouri (19-4) plays fifth-seeded St. Cloud State (12-5) — the NSIC’s only other tournament qualifier — in Friday’s other first-round game.
UMD has the fewest losses of any team in the tournament but also the fewest games.
“It was so difficult to figure out this season,” Pearson said. “Normally, we try to schedule in-region games so our league and their league (the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) can kind of figure out and measure up the two leagues, but that didn’t happen this year.”
Pearson said she had no idea how it would end up going into the selection show.
“There’s just not enough data, so it was a real wild card,” she said. “It was just really hard to know.”
Pearson was crossing her fingers the Bulldogs might get a top two seed, meaning a free pass into the second round, but she certainly wasn’t counting on it. Should the Bulldogs win Thursday they would play Nebraska-Kearney Saturday.
“We’re just excited that we get to go and play,” Pearson said.
Unlike last year, when the Bulldogs showed up, never to take the court for an actual game.
This year, crossing the fingers once again, should be different.
“Honestly, last year seems like so long ago, and now we’re right back to where we left off,” Simonet said, laughing. “Let’s see what we can do with it.”
NCAA Division II Tournament
Friday’s Opening Round
No. 3 Minnesota Duluth (13-1) vs. No. 6 Emporia State (18-6)
No. 4 Central Missouri (19-4) vs. No. 5 St. Cloud State (12-5)
Saturday’s Region Semifinals
Minnesota Duluth/Emporia State winner vs. No. 2 Nebraska-Kearney (22-3)
Central Missouri/St. Cloud State winner vs. No. 1 Fort Hays State (22-3)