The Kentucky Wesleyan women's basketball team is headed to the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history.
The Lady Panthers earned the No. 5 seed and will play the No. 4 seed Michigan Tech on March 15 in Ashland, Ohio, in the Midwest Regional.
"It was a little different this year compared to two years ago, being that we were a bubble team that year," co-head coach Caleb Nieman said. "I had a good feeling we were in. We did want to be the No. 5 seed. We thought that was the highest we could be.
"Just seeing your name go up on that bracket and knowing how much work it took to put your name on that bracket is pretty exciting."
KWC (20-8) won 10 of its last 12 games and lost a nail-biter to Maryville on Saturday in the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament semifinals at the Ford Center in Evansville.
The Lady Panthers earned a share of the GLVC East Division regular season title, marking the first conference title in program history.
Other highlights included most conference wins in a season (14), the second-highest regular season win total (19) and the highest regional ranking in program history (No. 5).
Ashland (31-3) earned the No. 1 seed and will face No. 8 seed Indianapolis (19-9).
No. 2 seed Lewis (24-5) will play No. 7 seed Wisconsin-Parkside (20-9) and No. 3 seed Findlay (24-5) will face No. 6 seed Wayne State (20-8).
The semifinals will be Saturday, March 16, and the championship on Monday, March 18.
Game times and ticket information will be released on Monday. The eight region champions from around the nation will meet in the "Elite Eight" in San Antonio, Texas on March 26-29.
Nieman had the team over to his house to celebrate and watch the selection show on Sunday night and had a cake to commemorate the occasion.
He said his team is hungry to get back on the floor after Saturday's loss.
"Throughout our time here and the seniors that have been with us the entire three years, we've learned that all these challenges that come our way – losses – they all happen for a reason. Hopefully we learn something from the loss and we can use it, be a better team because of it. It will help on the bigger stage, because the NCAA tournament is a huge stage. GLVC tournament is not the biggest stage.
"We're excited to become a better team and see what we can do in the tournament."
There wasn't much to celebrate on the men's side, though.
KWC (20-8) was left out of the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.
The Panthers were No. 9 in the Midwest Region Rankings all three weeks that the list was released and never moved up even after a win over Bellarmine on Feb. 23.
KWC won its first 14 games of the season, but a 19-point home loss to Southern Indiana on Jan. 21 set off a funk in which the Panthers lost six of seven games in late January and early February.
Coach Todd Lee said he could crunch the numbers and probably make a case for why his team should still be in the tournament field, perhaps over a team like Wayne State (who lost to six non-regionally ranked teams), but said the way to earn a tournament bid going forward is to simply win more games.
"I told our guys, that's the problem you have when you rely on other people," he said. "You've got to win games and take care of business. You can look back at the year and there are one or two games that you'd love to have back. If you have one of those games back, or two of those games back, you're not having this conversation.
"Unfortunately, like I said, people compare it to Division-I and it's just not the same deal. Like I said, we'd probably be a 6 seed in Division-I…the way they do Division-II, if you're in a region like ours, and a conference like ours, you could be really good and be a Top 30 team in the country and not even get into the NCAA tournament. That's the way it works."
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