WALLA WALLA — The Whitman women are going to the “Big Dance” for the first time in school history after receiving an at-large bid from the NCAA Division III selection committee — the 64-team field being announced Monday.
The Missionaries posted a 20-4 regular season and a 13-3 Northwest Conference mark that earned them second place in the NWC, which is sending three teams to the tourney: Lewis & Clark, NWC tournament champ Whitworth and Whitman.
“We are thrilled,” said Missionary head coach Michelle Ferenz. “I think our selection not only demonstrates recognition of our season but also, on a national level that the Northwest Conference is very, very good in women’s basketball. When you start stacking us up against other teams for at-large bids, our strength of schedule really carries us ahead of a lot of those other teams.”
The Missionaries face Cal Lutheran (23-4) on Friday at Lewis & Clark College in Portland at 5:30 p.m.
The Regals won their second consecutive Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title by beating Chapman, 59-54, in the conference title game.
Whitman suffered a loss at home in the NWC semifinals after earning the No. 2 seed to the tournament, but earned the NCAA berth based on its total body of work.
The 13-3 conference record included a road win at then-No. 5-ranked Lewis & Clark, and a victory over nationally ranked George Fox, to name a couple of the highlights.
“I am just thrilled to have another week with these kids,” said Ferenz. “It’s been a fun season. It’s a great group and they work so hard. The really deserve it.”
No. 8 Lewis & Clark is in the same grouping, facing Trinity of Texas Friday, and the Pioneers and the Missionaries could matchup for a third time this season Saturday if they both win their openers.