Local D-II women's teams take step up in class
The women's basketball coaches from Edinboro and Indiana (Pa.) probably won't want to look at the scoreboard much in their next games. That's OK with them.
The Division II teams will play exhibitions against two of the top D-I programs in the nation. Edinboro travels to preseason No. 7 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. Thursday, and IUP visits seven-time national champion Connecticut at 7 p.m. Friday.
“I told the girls I know what we're up against,” said IUP coach Jeff Dow, whose team lost to UConn, 100-41, in a preseason game two years ago. “We're going to struggle at times, and that's probably an understatement.
“But as long as we're attempting to do the right thing, I can live with the result.”
Beginning the season with a blowout loss might seem like a confidence-crippling endeavor. But Dow said the exhibitions — typically requested by the D-II schools — serve as a major selling point to recruits.
“It's a special opportunity for our players,” said Dow, whose team went 23-7 last year and lost to Edinboro in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “Your typical D-II team doesn't get this chance, let alone twice in three years.”
Last season, Edinboro played Purdue tight for much of an exhibition contest before falling, 88-73. Fighting Scots coach Stan Swank said center Samantha Blazetic held her own against the Boilermakers' post players, and her performances helped pave the way for an all-conference season. Edinboro finished 30-2 and lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the Fighting Scots' No. 6 preseason ranking, staying with Notre Dame — which reached the national championship the past two seasons — is a long shot.
“You hear the name Notre Dame, you think ‘What the heck are we getting ourselves into?' ” said Edinboro All-American guard Kiara Brown, an Ambridge graduate.
But it'll give Edinboro the ultimate preseason self-evaluation, an opportunity to play in a large arena and a chance to tour the Notre Dame facilities. Plus, Brown gets to test herself against Notre Dame's national player of the year candidate, Skylar Diggins.
“If I can guard her, I can guard anyone in D-II,” Brown said.
The D-I teams benefit, too. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the best part is allowing the freshmen to get into a game situation.
“I love it because it gets them in uniforms and in front of our fans,” she said. “We try to work out our kinks. I expect our players to treat it like the most important game of the season. I think it's good for both teams.”
Jeff Vella is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.