Women's Hoops: Seniors talk about NCAA bid

Sunday afternoon Vanderbilt seniors Ashley Earley and Abi Ramsey received their last invitation to the Big Dance, also known as the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.

Their first partner in the dance will be the Montana Lady Grizzlies, the place will be the Bank of America Arena in Seattle, Washington, and the time will be approximately 9:30 p.m. CT.

This will be the Vanderbilt seniors' fourth trip to the NCAA tournament. As freshmen, they went to the Elite 8, where they lost to Tennessee in the regional finals. As sophomores, they lost in the second round to Boston College in the final seconds of over-time, and as juniors, they lost in the Sweet 16 to Stanford on a buzzer beater by Kelly Suminksi.

But while they're battle-tested veterans, this year is different from any other because their Vanderbilt careers will end with this tournament.

"Ashley were sitting at the table talking about how each game we're playing for our next game," said Ramsey after the NCAA's Selection Show on Sunday afternoon. "We need to make a point to the other girls that we're going to go for every ball, and that it starts in practice making that extra effort.."

For Ramsey, the reality began to sink in at the barbecue hosted by the Commodore Crew, the booster club for women's basketball, earlier in the afternoon.

"Here I am with some of the Commodore Crew, and they're coming by and saying how much they've enjoyed me over the past four years, and I'm like, 'this is like the beginning of saying good bye.' It's almost more of a sad day than an enjoyable one, so it's definitely starting to sink in right now, and we're wanting to have every last second."

Earley shares her sense of urgency.

"It's our last time," Earley said. "We're seniors so we want to go out on a positive note. The last two years we have lost at the last second, so we want a different ending this time around. And just the knowledge of knowing our next game could be our last game -- it's exciting to know that it's all or nothing."

If the Commodores are successful in their first game against Montana on Saturday, on Monday they'll face the winner of the game between #4-seed Kansas State and #13-seed Bowling Green for a trip to the Sweet 16.

Should they once again prevail, they'd likely face #1-seed Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Other possible future opponents in the Kansas City region include defending national champion #3-seed Connecticut and last year's nemesis, #2-seed Stanford.

Ramsey says that the bracket was "kind of a shocker" because it doesn't include either Tennessee, a team which has been in Vanderbilt's bracket two of the past three years, or Ohio State, where former Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster now coaches.

If the teams in the bracket were a surprise, the seed wasn't. "We came in expecting to get a 4 or a 5 seed," said Earley. "We ended up getting a 5 seed. There's really no difference between them. You play a 12 seed or a 13th seed and if we both win, then we end up playing each other."

But first things first. Immediately after the Selection Show, the coaching staff began preparations for the upcoming opponents. Each of the assistant coaches will scout one of the teams in the "pod", which includes Montana, Kansas State, and Bowling Green.

Throughout the season, the staff tapes games on TV, so they already have a video library to draw from. For teams that rarely appear on television, they turn to a service that provides video tapes.

Then it's back to the gym. Last week the team had some time off after the SEC tournament, then began to get back into the swing of things, going back to the fundamentals. Monday will probably be another day of going back to the basics.

The break has been good for the team. "Going into the tournament, we feel good," Ramsey said. "We've had this past week to get healthy and we have the rest of this week to focus on those teams we'll be playing."

A limited number of tickets to the first and second round games in Seattle are available through the Vanderbilt ticket office with priority to National Commodore Club and Commodore Crew members who are season ticket holders for women's basketball.

Anyone who would like to request tickets can call the ticket office at 615-322-GOLD (option 2). The ticket office will also be open from 8:30 to 5:00 p.m. on Monday for those who wish to place ticket requests in person.

The deadline to request tickets is 5 p.m., Monday, March 14.

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