Central Michigan leaves Mount Pleasant ready for March Madness to begin
Sue Guevara waved goodbye to fans gathered in the parking lot at Theunissen Stadium, walked three steps into the team bus and closed the doors behind her.
It's March, and the madness is about to begin for the Central Michigan women's basketball team.
The motor vehicle departed from Mount Pleasant, making its way to South Bend, Ind. for the NCAA Tournament.
Six consecutive wins stand between the No. 8 Chippewas (25-7) and the tournament crown. The journey begins at 1 p.m. March 23 in a matchup with No. 9 Michigan State.
"March Madness is fun for anybody who loves basketball," said CMU senior forward Reyna Frost. "I'm just excited to get on the court and play Saturday."
Frost said it helps that she went through the entire process a year ago, a trip that CMU made all the way to the Sweet 16. Last year, the eye-opening atmosphere was at Ohio State. This time, it's Notre Dame.
If it hasn't already been done through the 2018 tournament run or CMU's handful of impressive victories in the most recent nonconference schedule, Frost said she wants opposing teams to continue to understand that Mid-Major schools, specifically CMU, can compete with Power 5 programs.
Guevara, CMU's 12th-year coach, said it's anybody's chance in the postseason.
"You can take out the Mid-Major and Power 5 because it's March Madness, baby," Guevara exclaimed. "That's what it is. Doesn't matter the seed or if you have a direction in front of your name."
'We know who we are'
Before getting on the bus, Frost made it clear – she doesn't think teams will be surprised if the Chippewas make a run. Rather, it will fuel even more respect.
Guevara agreed, adding coaches across the nation are aware of CMU. Some of the opposing players, however, might not have the same understanding.
"It's just a matter of players believing we are a good program," Guevara said. "We know who we are, and we do what we do."
CMU was the only team in the state to make it to the Sweet 16 in 2018. Even though MSU went 9-9 in Big Ten Conference play this season, Guevara still compared the Spartans to teams like Louisville, Buffalo, Virginia and Miami (FL).
Guevara said MSU coach Suzy Merchant's group doesn't feature a new style, just a physical approach.
Even though Buffalo won the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Bulls picked up a No. 10 seed from the selection committee. Meanwhile, the Chippewas got an at-large bid as a No. 8 seed even after losing to Buffalo in the MAC Tournament semifinals.
"I think that speaks to our program, conference and nonconference schedule," Guevara said of her team's placement in the tournament.
'Experience is huge'
In the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the No. 11 Chippewas got past No. 6 LSU (78-69) and No. 3 Ohio State (95-78) to set up a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 2 Oregon. Despite a fight until the end, CMU fell short to the Ducks, 83-69.
Throughout the seven-day venture from the first round to Sweet 16, the Chippewas earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and shocked the nation with an unexpectedly deep run.
A full year later, senior guard Presley Hudson said she's thankful for the experience the 2018 tournament provided.
"We have that under our belt," Hudson said. "Experience is huge because you know what it's like to play in front of all those people like we did against Ohio State. We know what to expect."
CMU went 30-5 overall in the 2017-18 season, including a 17-1 record in the MAC. Since then, a target has been on the team's back.
"Every team gives us their best shot," Hudson said. "We aren't going to surprise anyone because they know about us."