By Maggie Franke
For the first time in five years, both of Wheaton’s varsity basketball programs qualified for the national tournament.
After two disappointing losses for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, Wheaton’s chances of qualifying for nationals did not look bright. However, several things happened that allowed both of the Thunder Basketball teams to qualify for the national tournament.
Last Friday, the Wheaton Men’s Basketball team suffered a tough 94-87 loss to North Central College in the CCIW Championship Tournament semifinal game. When asked about the team’s thoughts on national tournament hopes, senior Astin Francis said, “Friday night it really didn’t look too great for us, but after North Central won on Saturday we felt much better about our chances to get in.” Any hope of entering into the tournament rested on calculated wins and losses of other teams in the conference.
Wheaton was selected to the NCAA DIII Men’s Basketball National Tournament on Monday. “We feel like we have been given a second chance and want to make the most of it,” Francis said. “We are really excited to keep playing.”
The Thunder will face Hanover College at 4:30 p.m. (CST) on Friday, March 1. Hanover is 21-6 on the season, but both teams are currently unranked in the most recent poll of the top 25 DIII teams by D3hoops.com.
Wheaton is anticipating a fresh wave of energy to carry them into the game “We feel confident that if we play well, we can beat anybody,” Francis said. “Hanover is a good team, but we will be ready for the challenge.”
The Wheaton Women’s Basketball team was more successful in the CCIW Women’s Championship Tournament by winning their semifinal game against Elmhurst College. However, in a neck-and-neck matchup against Illinois Wesleyan University last Saturday night, the Titans came out on top with a final score of 69-68.
An 18-point, fourth-period drive by IWU allowed them to pull ahead of the Thunder who led the majority of the game. Even after the loss, Wheaton’s national tournament goals remained alive Still the 21st ranked team in the nation after Saturday’s loss, the Thunder proved themselves to be a strong tournament selection.
“Our team couldn’t be more excited to get an at—large bid to the tournament,” junior forward Hannah Frazier said. “It’s such an exciting atmosphere, and we’re going against the best competition in the country so we know we have to be ready and play at our best.”
The Thunder women will be traveling to Iowa to face Hope College this Friday. Hope is currently ranked number 10 in D3hoops.com’s most recent poll. They have an overall record of 23-4. “Hope is a really good team with a historically successful program,” Frazier said, “but that’s gonna be the case with most teams we see in the national tournament.”
Both of Wheaton’s basketball teams will have live streams of their games available on the Wheaton athletics website.