Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Becca Mann
Nebraska returns to postseason action in year two of the Amy Williams era
Just one year ago, after posting their worst record in school history and ending the last month of play on a 2-5 skid, after finishing in a tie for last place in the conference with a winless road schedule, after dropping the first game of the Big Ten Tournament and watching the team’s lead scorer transfer, it’s hard for even Amy Williams to believe she would be where she is today.
“If I’m going to be 100 percent honest, it’s not really something that we felt like was probably (realistic),” Williams said about the team’s berth into the NCAA Tournament. “We knew that that’s what we were building toward, but to expect for that to happen right away this year, we probably wouldn’t have said ‘yeah, that’s a guaranteed goal.”
NU vs. Arizona St.
The Huskers made it into the field of 64 as a No. 10 seed, and will need to use their “road warrior” mentality to pull an upset and survive in the women’s edition of March Madness.
Only two years into her tenure as coach of the Huskers, and one year after failing to qualify for postseason play, Williams and her team earned a No. 10 spot in the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 7 Arizona State (21-12) on Saturday.
“I will tell you that this team sets their sights high and they know how hard they worked in the off season,” Williams said. “I think that as we were progressing through the non-conference, then it started to become a more realistic goal for this group fairly early on in the season.”
The team was considered to be sitting on the bubble going into the selection show on Monday, which added to the suspense of being the second-to-last game revealed.
Williams said when the list of final eight teams on the bubble Sunday was released and Nebraska was not on, it gave the team some confidence. Waiting until nearly the end of the show on Monday to see their placement, however, did not.
“When all those brackets were going by and we didn’t see our name, it was kind of getting a little nerve wracking,” she said. “Once the players saw that it was just an immediate joy. They were very, very excited. Lots of screaming, lots of emotion, lots of jumping up and down.”
Nebraska’s turnaround this year has been nothing short of incredible. The Huskers are 21-10 overall this season and 11-5 in conference play. The team earned a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and took down No. 6 Michigan before falling to No. 2 Maryland in the semifinal round.
Her performance in leading NU also won Williams the Big Ten Coach of the Year award. Before leaving the University of South Dakota after the 2015-16 season, Williams led her team to a WNIT Championship and was named the Summit League Coach of the Year for the second year in a row.
While at USD, Williams led the Coyotes to four straight postseason appearances, two Summit League regular season championships, the school’s first league tournament title and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Now coaching at her alma mater the success doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Williams will lead the Huskers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015 and the 14th in program history.
Two of Nebraska’s seniors, Jasmine Cincore and Emily Wood, were members of that 2015 roster and will cap off their time as Huskers back where they started.
“When we first came in and we did make it freshman year, we were a part of it but our minutes weren’t as large. I don’t think we really had a great grasp of what it really meant to go dancing,” Cincore said.
I think we have a way better understanding now and have some seasons underneath our belt and it just feels great to know that hard work is being shown and paying off in making it to the big dance.”
Sophomore guard Hannah Whitish said summer practices before the season began showed how hard the team was truly willing to work to make its goals become realities.
“I had never been around that, so I knew it was going to be something special,” she said.
Between Williams’ motivation to prove doubters wrong and the fire behind a team ready for its resurgence, there is no doubt Saturday’s game will be an incredible fight, no matter the outcome.
“I’ll admit I was more than a little misty,” Wood said about learning the team’s fate on Monday.
“She had tears streaming down her face which gave me some tears coming out,” Whitish said with a laugh.
“It’s just so special,” Wood said. “I mean we’ve worked so hard and no matter what tournament we ended up, we’re just thrilled to be able to keep playing this year. It’s just icing on the cake to be able to play in the NCAA tournament.”
Tip-off between the Huskers and Sun Devils is set for 2:30 p.m. CT with broadcasts available on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. Matt Coatney and Jeff Griesch will have the call on Husker Sports Network.