By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Emilee Thiesse has four years of experience coaching in the NCAA Division I tournament, and most of the Minnesota State women’s basketball team got to experience the Division II national tournament last season.
But Thiesse said the biggest challenge was to treat tournament games like any other.
“You want to have confidence, but you try not to put too much pressure on yourself,” Thiesse said. “We always talk about the next game being the most important game, but I think we have a little more of an edge, especially coming off a loss.”
Minnesota State (25-5) is the fourth seed for the Central Region tournament, which begins today at Topeka, Kan. The Mavericks take on Arkansas Tech (23-6), winner of the Great American Conference, at 8 p.m.
Other quarterfinal matchups are No. 3 Concordia-St. Paul vs. Augustana at noon, No. 2 Central Missouri vs. Southwestern Oklahoma at 2 p.m., and No. 1 Washburn vs. Emporia State at 6 p.m.
The Mavericks, who have the second most wins in program history, had won 14 straight games before losing to Augustana in the championship game of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament Saturday.
“We really wanted to win the conference championship,” sophomore guard Ali Hoefer said. “Now we have to prove we can bounce back.”
There are only a couple of players on the roster who were around when Minnesota State won the national championship in 2009, but the core of the team got its first NCAA experience last season when the Mavericks lost at Wayne State in the region quarterfinals.
“There was a lot of people at that game,” Hoefer said. “It was a crazy environment. Hopefully, we’re ready for that.”
Arkansas Tech, which has won 11 straight games, is led by senior Jessica Weatherford, a 6-foot-0 forward who averages 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds, and senior point guard Roselis Silva, who adds 15.3 points, 5.0 assists and 5.1 steals. The Golden Suns average 73.0 points and allow only 62.7 points, outrebounding teams by 8.5 per game.
“I think we match up pretty well,” Thiesse said. “We need to play defense and not lose track of those two players. We’ve let some players go off on us this season so we really need to rely on each other and get some stops.”
For Minnesota State, junior post Ali Wilkinson, who was named to the All-Central Region second team Thursday, is averaging 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds, shooting 56.6 percent from the field, 44.1 percent from 3-point range and 85.7 percent on free throws.
Sophomore guard Aubrey Davis is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 41.9 percent on 3-pointers. Junior forward Karlee Gengenbacher is averaging 10.4 points. The Mavericks average 76.8 points and allow 65.6. Rebounding has been an issue, giving up more than they get.
“We definitely have to be prepared,” Hoefer said. “We’re the No. 4 seed. We’re not the underdog. We have a lot to work for.”