By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
Based on its body of work, The Master’s University women’s basketball team knew it was a lock for next week’s NAIA Division 1 tournament.
Based on how difficult it was to win the first Golden State Athletic Conference regular season title in program history, the Mustangs had an idea that many of their conference rivals would join them.
The Mustangs earned a No. 2 seed in the field of 32 and will play No. 7-seeded University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma on March 13 at 3 p.m. PST.
Six GSAC teams, more than any other conference, will make the trip to Billings, Montana, after the bracket was released on Facebook Live Wednesday.
This will be TMU’s seventh straight trip to nationals, and the club has designs on a deep run. It also knows that Science and Arts will provide a stiff challenge in the first round.
The Rovers (21-11) finished third in the tough Sooner Athletic Conference, behind Oklahoma City and Wayland Baptist, the country’s No. 10- and No. 7-ranked teams, respectively.
Science and Arts received votes in the final poll.
The Mustangs’ quadrant of the bracket includes GSAC rival Vanguard, which TMU beat twice during the regular season and once in the conference tournament semifinals. It also features 2016 national champion MidAmerica Nazarene (KS) (24-5); perennial power Xavier (LA); and No. 1 seed Montana Western (25-4), a team led by one of the nation’s leading scorers, senior guard Brianna King.
Xavier has won fewer than 20 games only four times in the last 27 seasons. Montana Western is the tournament’s No. 4 overall seed.
“Everywhere you look it’s good,” Waldeck said of TMU’s draw. “You’re going to have to win it. It’s not going to be handed to you.”
Westmont (24-7) also received a No. 2 seed out of the GSAC, and the Warriors will open with LSU Alexandria on Wednesday.
As for the other GSAC participants, No. 4 seed Vanguard will play Lyon (AR); No. 5 seed Menlo will play Talladega (AL); No. 6 seed Arizona Christian will play Oklahoma City; and No. 7 William Jessup – making its first appearance at nationals – will take on Wayland Baptist.
The Mustangs (26-6) had to deal with all five of them on the way to a 16-2 record in conference.
“It definitely speaks to the quality and consistency of our schedule,” Waldeck said. “I think the GSAC represented itself really well this year nationally, and Lord willing we can go and continue to play good basketball. Everything is so matchup driven that we are going to have to be at our best.”
The Mustangs are coming off a 60-50 loss to Westmont in the GSAC tournament title game last week. Waldeck believes his team has moved past the defeat and is fully focused on the tournament.
“We’re on to the next play, we’re totally past it,” he said. “We know that we didn’t play like us, and we know why. Most of those things are under our control, so we’re going to make the necessary adjustments and be really good when it matters most.”
Point guard Sabrina Thompson agrees.
“We are nationals focused, and we’re ready for a week of intense practices to get ready for nationals,” she said. “It’s a lot of games in a row and it’s a different environment and style. We’ll be ready for it.”