It didn’t take long for the Cal Poly women’s basketball team to find out where its first-ever NCAA bid would take them. In the sixth pairing announced on ESPN’s selection show, the Mustangs appeared as a No. 14 seed pitted against No. 3 Penn State in Baton Rouge, La. at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday.
Firestone Grill, where the team was gathered, exploded in cheers and clapping.
The fact that the team is a heavy underdog against the Nittany Lions didn’t faze them. In fact, most of the team is still cramming for finals before they’ll focus on Penn State.
“We have to take care of finals first, but after that it would be great to pull an upset,” said Molly Schlemer, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. “We’re going to work hard in practice and see what comes of it.”
Head coach Faith Mimnaugh was expecting the worst. She originally thought that the team would face one of the perennial giants in women’s college basketball, such as Stanford, Connecticut or Baylor, in the first round.
“It was just so cool to see Cal Poly up there on the TV screen and to know it was our team,” she said. “I didn’t see where we were playing or what time we were playing, but I saw a 14 seed, I was totally expecting a 16 seed, and was like ‘Yay, that’s awesome.’”
The Mustangs and Nittany Lions had one common opponent, Cal State Northridge, that both teams beat this season. Schlemer knew almost immediately that Cal Poly already had one thing up on Penn State; her team beat the Matadors by 17 in its most recent game while Penn State won by just 12.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, history is not on their side. A No. 14 seed has never beaten a No. 3 seed in the women’s NCAA tournament.
The Mustangs and Nittany Lions don’t have much else in common, except that redshirt sophomore Ariana Elegado went to high school with Penn State guard Gizelle Studevent and the two remain friends.
“I was excited to play any team,” Elegado said. “Being given the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament is amazing, no one at Cal Poly has ever done (that) before.”
The Mustangs will be without Kayla Griffin, who is believed to have torn her ACL and, possibly, her MCL during the team’s championship game against Pacific on Saturday.
“Kayla has been a huge part of our success and has been for her four years here,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s a player that makes us go, she’s our glue player. We have some other players that are going to be excited about opportunities before them to fill those shoes, but there isn’t going to be one single player that can do that.”
Mimnaugh said she expects to move senior Nikol Allison into the starting lineup to replace Griffin.