MOUNT PLEASANT - Basketball fans not familiar with Central Michigan's women’s basketball program would think the team is entering the NCAA postseason with little national tournament experience, considering the last time the Chippewas made the big dance was 1984.
However, those fans would be overlooking the fact that two key members of the Chippewas– head coach Sue Guerava and senior Jessica Schroll– do in fact have quality NCAA Tournament experience.
When Guerava was en route to becoming the University of Michigan's all-time winningest coach, she led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
“I talked to our team about the first time I took my team from Michigan to the tournament," Guevara said. "We were just so excited to be there, players were on the floor taking pictures of the NCAA logo. We went down to the University of Alabama and played UCLA, and we had 32 turnovers because we were so nervous."
But the sixth-year head coach of the Chippewas is determined to not allow that to happen this year, despite facing a Sooners team that has gone to the Tournament 13 straight seasons and has four players on the roster who were part of the 2010 Final Four team.
"Our non-conference schedule has really prepared us for this Oklahoma team," she continued. "We’ve played teams with the size, the athleticism, and the good guards, and we've played them at their places where there is a crowd and a lot of noise. But I told them to really focus on what got us here. Through the entire MAC Tournament that was our defense, making free throws, and maintaining our composure."
Guerava also knows she can say all she wants but the impact of a player who has been through it will be much greater on the team.
“As a player who has been there, who has prepared, who has played a team like Connecticut, Jess has been able to talk to the girls about what it's like, and help them understand that once the ball goes up, it’s just like playing Toledo. For a player to say that is a lot different than it coming from a coach," said Guevara.
While at Iowa State, Schroll competed in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, the Cyclones advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to future champion Connecticut.
“It was a great experience," Schroll recalled. "You get to play against the highest level of competition and it prepares you for the next season as well. Going to the NCAA’s twice has prepared me for pressure situations and situations where some people might freeze or panic. I just have a lot of experiences that other girls on the team don’t have,” Schroll said of her NCAA Tournament experiences.
Schroll is averaging 28.6 minutes per game, which means her on-the-court presence will be very important for the Chippewas heading into the first round.
“I’ll be a calming presence on the court, as well as through my words," she said. "I’ll be able to get people excited while staying calm in the right moments. Basketball is a game of runs. We are going to make ours, and Oklahoma is certainly going to make theirs, but we are going to try and make ours bigger and longer, and I think my past experiences in the tournament will be helpful with that.”
The 11th-seeded Chippewas will tip-off against the sixth-seeded Sooners Saturday at 11:10 a.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 from Columbus, Ohio.