Nerves ran high for some as the Elon University women’s basketball team waited to see where they would be playing the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But not head coach Charlotte Smith.
“I was pretty relaxed,” she said. “[The show] will eventually get to us, so I was pretty calm.”
Waiting until the final region was revealed, the No.13-ranked Phoenix will face No. 4 North Carolina State University at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 16 in Raleigh.
“This is a great opportunity to be here, to play in our state, be right in our backyard and fans to be able to come to the game,” Smith said. “That’s exciting to me.”
The Phoenix clinched the school's second trip in a row to the Big Dance by winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title Saturday night, defeating Drexel University 57-45 and slaying the Dragons on their home court.
Now headed to the Big Dance, freshman guard Saadia Munford says the experience is surreal.
“It’s crazy to think about,” she said. “Watching the tournament my whole life and now I’m actually playing in it – it’s a crazy feeling to think about and I’m just super excited to see what the tournament brings to me.”
The game is set for approximately 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, though it could be delayed depending on how long the game between No. 5 University of Maryland and No. 12 Princeton University goes. In order to play the winner of that game, Elon will have to defeat the Wolfpack, a team it is familiar with.
Elon faced NC State on Dec. 16, falling 57-70 on the same court they will be playing on this week. Sophomore center Ra’shika White led the Phoenix in the earlier matchup, finishing the game with 20 points and senior guard Shay Burnett adding 14.
With a rematch in store, Burnett says she’s excited to head into the game and try to get revenge.
“I just know that since we have film on them earlier from this year, it may be an easier match up going in for the second time around," she said. “We're a whole different team than when we were at the beginning of the season. We're more mature now.”
“First time we played them, I left the tournament with a black eye and a chipped tooth. So I’m looking to get revenge,” Munford said. “We are a way better team. I’m a way better player. I got way more comfortable with the system, so I’m excited to compete against them now compared to the team we were at the beginning of the season.”
Riding a 13-game winning streak and coming off a CAA championship entering the tournament, the Phoenix hopes to use that momentum to make it past the first round in front of a home crowd.
“To go back-to-back CAA champions – that’s a great accomplishment,” Smith said. “We’re excited about the opportunity for our fans to be able to support us in the NCAA Tournament. There’s nothing like having that sixth man in the stands ... so I’m hoping that people really come out and support us.”
Meanwhile, NC State enters the tournament as the No. 4 seed after falling in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament to the University of Louisville 59-64.
No matter how many times she has gone dancing, emotions still run high for Smith as she watches her team’s name appear on the screen.
“I probably won’t sleep tonight,” she said.