Sophomore guard Shay Burnett said the Elon University women’s basketball team has embraced a new mindset since hearing they made the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
“We’re all looking at it as, ‘Forget Spring Break. We’re going to go all the way,’” Burnett said.
Elon will begin play in the WNIT starting with a first-round game against Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. Thursday night in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The WNIT announced the 64-team field around 9 p.m. Monday night, then released matchups just before 11 p.m. Dates and times were finalized Tuesday.
Head coach Charlotte Smith felt the team wanted another chance to play again.
“I was overjoyed and super excited. It gives this team an opportunity to redeem itself,” Smith said. “I felt we went out on a note that we didn’t want to in the conference tournament. We worked really hard all season long and had a great season. It’s a chance for this team to show ourselves and who we are.”
The Phoenix lost to the University of Delaware 57-50 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament quarterfinals, an early exit that left room for doubt about the possibility of postseason play.
But all along, Smith believed Elon’s strong nonconference schedule — which included a win at North Carolina State University Dec. 13 — made the difference, arguing her point both after the loss in the quarterfinals last Thursday and after making the tournament.
“You have to be really strategic in your nonconference scheduling and play teams that are challenging and will have a good RPI in the end,” Smith said. “I’m really proud of our nonconference schedule and the accomplishments we had in our nonconference schedule.”
Along with the win at NC State, Smith mentioned the victory over the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Nov. 19, and the competitive losses to No. 2 University of South Carolina Dec. 22 and West Virginia University Dec. 28 as key factors in Elon’s nonconference schedule. Burnett felt confident the entire time that the Phoenix was going to make it into the tournament.
After the loss in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Smith sensed the team was discouraged. But the immediate reaction to the WNIT bid suggests the team feels ready to bounce back.
“I texted the kids [Monday night], and I got all of these cool emoticons that seem like there’s a lot of excitement in the air,” Smith said. “I hope that the emoticons prove to be true.”
And Burnett said the team has moved on from the loss quickly and has had some great practices this week to get ready for the tournament.
“We’re very focused, and it’s a great opportunity,” Burnett said. “We should’ve been practicing like this from the beginning, but it’s not too late. We still have another opportunity to win another championship this year.”
It’s the second straight appearance in the WNIT for Elon (18-12) and the second postseason berth in program history. The Phoenix lost at Georgia Tech in the first round last year 69-47.
Elon’s win over NC State is the only game the Phoenix played against an Atlantic Coast Conference school in 2015-16. All time, the Phoenix is 0-2 against Virginia Tech, losing in 2009 and 2010.
Burnett watched film from Virginia Tech’s game against Duke University right after the matchup was announced, and she said she firmly believes the Hokies are “beatable.” If Elon beats the Hokies, it would need five more victories to win the tournament. But Burnett has faith.
“We’re in it to win it,” Burnett said. “We’re determined to get a championship this year because we have a championship team.”