Sue Guevara sits on her throne, and it's nothing new
She climbs the ladder, cuts down what remains of an already frayed net and perches herself on the basketball hoop.
Her back pressing against the backboard and legs dangling through the rim, she sits on her throne, waving the net in circles. Fans, players and fellow coaches cheer enthusiastically for the 12th-year Central Michigan coach.
Sue Guevara is at the top, as she has been for three consecutive years in the Mid-American Conference.
The Chippewas (23-6, 14-3 MAC) throttled arch-rival Western Michigan, 88-57, on March 6 to clinch at least a share of the MAC regular season title.
Holding yet another championship net in her hand this early in March means one thing: There's more to play for.
CMU leads second-place Ohio (24-4, 13-4 MAC) by one game in the overall MAC standings, meaning just a home win against Toledo (19-9, 11-6 MAC) at 1 p.m. March 9 will secure the outright conference regular season championship.
Guevara's group plans to do just that.
"It's always a special moment when you win a championship, but we want to win it by ourselves, so we know we have to take care of business on Saturday," said senior forward Reyna Frost.
Just last weekend, with a victory over Eastern Michigan, CMU picked up its fourth-straight MAC West Division title. Next week, while in Cleveland, Ohio, the Chippewas will look to repeat as MAC Tournament champions.
There's more basketball to be played, and it's nothing new for Guevara. She started at CMU in the 2007-08 season, and the team finished 6-23 overall. In her fourth year at the helm, the Chippewas were 20-11 overall and made the WNIT.
Two seasons after that, Guevara made a trip to the NCAA Tournament by winning the MAC Tournament in 2012-13. Since that first WNIT bid in 2010-11, CMU has only missed the postseason once.
"I know just how hard it is. It's so hard," Guevara said of staying dominant. "But our kids are tough, they're battle-tested, and they're tough-minded."
As for last season, the Chippewas' hard work, grit and determination allowed them to dance all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, upsetting LSU and Ohio State on the way.
Over the past 12 years, Guevara has maintained success. Players come and go, coaches snag different jobs, new athletic administrators are brought in and even fans move away from town. Guevara's culture is the overarching factor that has remained the same.
For Frost and senior guard Presley Hudson, two keys to success over the past four years, this is the last time around the block. The last MAC West title, MAC regular season championship and MAC Tournament.
After this, it's all over for the dynamic duo.
Instead of getting caught up in the reality of the end, Frost said she's using the finish line as motivation. Think of it as a bittersweet moment in sight for Frost, Hudson and fellow senior Jaeda Robinson. The goal, if it hasn't already been accomplished, is for the trio to leave Mount Pleasant as the best class in history.
"I want to go out strong with Presley and leave a good footprint on Central Michigan," Frost said. "We've gotten better every single year, so we want to make noise come postseason. It's gone by really fast. We have a team behind us and are going into more tough games."
Hudson broke the all-time scoring record earlier this year, as did Frost with the program rebounding record. Just a few months after Frost towered over former star Crystal Bradford's mark, she snapped the all-time rebounding record in MAC women's basketball history.
Since the 2015-16 season, Guevara controls a 59-11 record in her conference. That streak began when Hudson and Frost were freshmen, looking up to forward Jewel Cotton and following closely behind forward Tinara Moore and guard Cassie Breen.
Hudson and Frost know no different than winning the MAC West, as it's been a consistent accomplishment since the pair arrived on campus. They are fully aware of the task upcoming at Quicken Loans Arena and are desperate for another taste of the NCAA Tournament.
"There's no substitute for experience," Guevara said. "You can tell your players about what it's going to be like at Cleveland, but until they feel it, they don't understand."
One of the ways Guevara helps her squad realize the intensity of playing in the MAC Tournament is loading the nonconference schedule. In 2018-19 alone, Guevara set matchups against South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Virginia, Quinnipiac, Louisville and Miami (FL) – six teams that made the NCAA Tournament the year prior.
The thought is that if players understand what it means to play a top-notch team in the nation, the MAC Tournament won't be as stressful. Up to this point, Guevara's philosophy has worked.
"We know what it's like, the stress on our bodies," Hudson said. "This is go time. This is when you have to pick up your game to another level.
"Being a senior, it's so different to look back. There were so many things I didn't know as a freshman."
In the MAC Tournament a year ago, CMU nabbed tightly contested wins against Eastern Michigan (67-64), Miami (61-58) and Buffalo (96-91) for the championship. Even Guevara will admit the Chippewas could've easily dropped any of those games, but their resilience proved to be the difference.
For Guevara, Hudson, Frost and the rest of the Chippewas, the prized MAC Tournament just is days away.
It's crunch time, and March is finally here.