Friday, April 5, 2013

Drexel: One more win and Dragons are WNIT champions

The WNIT -- to play or not to play, that is the question.

Do you think Drexel, achingly close to an NCAA Tournament berth after a neck-and-neck CAA championship game with Delaware, could even say the letters W-N-I-T after that disappointment? But credit coach Denise Dillon, credit her Dragons who pulled it together enough to not just play in the WNIT but to put themselves in a position to win it.

Drexel (27-10) hosts Utah (23-13) in Saturday's WNIT championship game at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

Dillon doesn't have to do much to impress us; she already has in continuing to churn out quality teams year after year despite graduating players you wonder how she will ever replace. This Drexel team has wins over Auburn and Florida in addition to those over Iona, Harvard and Bowling Green. One more and Drexel makes history.

But what if they didn't play? ODU passed on the WNIT after the Dragons became the first team to defeat the Lady Monarchs in the CAA Tournament. Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said her team was too banged up to play this year. Rutgers also said rather not. North Carolina has also dismissed the WNIT after failing to make the tournament field last year.

We knock none of these teams. We simply raise the question: Is it always best to play? Jackie Cook said the Lady Monarchs -- who fell to Davidson at home in the WNIT's first round -- overwhelmingly wanted to play. James Madison also voted yay last year, and look what happened. The Dukes, in similar fashion to Drexel, fashioned a feel-good story of getting all the way to the championship game where they fell to an emotionally charged Oklahoma State team.

Brooks has been asked frequently about whether a first-round NCAA loss is better than a WNIT run.

"As I look back on it, the run we had is going to pay more dividends than one game would have," JMU coach Kenny Brooks said in a CAA interview at the start of the season. We got to play against Davidson, Wake Forest, Virginia, Syracuse and then go to Oklahoma State. It did so much for the kids individually and the kids as a team, but it did a lot for our community. We had people who had never been to a women's game come to a women's game. We've sold over 700 regular-season tickets for (2012-13). I've had so many people come up to me and talk about the run."

 Nikki Newman loved the experience, particularly the way Harrisonburg embraced the team throughout the run. But even Newman admits that on the heels of a painful loss in the CAA Tournament, the WNIT doesn't sound all that good initially. But win a couple of games, and suddenly there's a momentum, a magic to a season that seemed otherwise lost.

 That's why ultimately we're glad Drexel decided to put in its chips and vie to become the first Philadelphia team to win a postseason title. Only six teams are still playing at this time of year. Drexel is among them.

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