It may be too early to say definitively that the UNO women’s basketball program has arrived in just its second year in Division I.
But data continues to suggest that the Mavericks, if not where they want to be already, are at least running ahead of schedule in getting there.
After winning twice last weekend, UNO is 11-3, with nine wins against Division I opponents. At 3-1, the Mavs — picked to finish last — are in second place in the Summit League heading into Thursday’s league game at IUPUI.
Wins over Oakland and Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne earned the Mavs recognition from ESPN.com as the national team of the weekend.
“It’s a huge compliment to our players and our staff because of how hard they’ve worked,” UNO coach Chance Lindley said. “We know where we started, and we know we still have a long ways to go. But it is nice that the hard work is paying off.”
The Mavs’ ranking Tuesday by realtimerpi.com was No. 200 (it was at No. 198 before games Monday night), putting them close to the middle of the pack among 347 Division I teams.
They have a better rating than power conference schools such as Oregon, Oregon State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Providence and Seton Hall, and they are ranked higher than five of the other eight teams in the Summit as well as three Missouri Valley teams (Evansville, Drake and Southern Illinois).
What’s next? Postseason play?
UNO hasn’t spent much time thinking about it, but it is eligible for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and the Women’s Basketball Invitational. That’s different from men’s basketball, where UNO isn’t eligible for the NIT because the tournament is sponsored by the NCAA.
As a program transitioning from Division II to Division I, UNO is ineligible for the NCAA tournament — as well as the Summit League tournament — until the 2015-16 season.
But, after the 64-team NCAA women’s tournament is filled, the WNIT puts another 64 teams into its postseason bracket. The Summit League’s South Dakota made the field last year, during the final year of its transition to Division I, after going 22-7 overall and 12-6 for third place in the Summit.
After the WNIT is filled, the WBI invites another 16 teams to play in its tournament, putting a total of 144 women’s teams into the postseason.
Lindley said UNO’s goals are more day-to-day and game-to-game.
“It’s not that you don’t want to go to the postseason, but you preach to the team to worry about the next game,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re sending mixed messages. You don’t want to say we aren’t good enough to do that, but you still have to just worry about the next game.”
UNO knows it won’t go far without a strong finish in the Summit League anyway.
Preseason favorite South Dakota State is off to a 3-0 start in league play. UNO’s league loss was on the road at South Dakota, which is tied for third with IUPUI at 2-1. IUPUI’s league loss was at Oakland, one of the teams UNO beat last week at home.
Lindley, in his second season as coach, has been able to mesh players he inherited like senior stars Paige Frauendorfer and Jamie Nash and role players Stacia Gebers and Carly Cator with newcomers Carolyn Blair-Mobley, Ericka House, Taijhe Kelly and Casse Vaughn.
The high-energy Nash leads the Summit in assists and steals. Vaughn leads the Summit in field-goal percentage, Blair-Mobley leads in 3-point percentage and House leads in made 3-pointers. Kelly is second in blocked shots. Frauendorfer is second in rebounds and Blair-Mobley is fifth.
“We have a nice blend of kids who do what they can do for the team,” Lindley said. “We talk about roles and buying into the system, and we have girls coming off the bench who could justifiably be starters. But they are much more concerned about our team winning the game than all their individual stats.”
In Nash, Frauendorfer and Blair-Mobley, UNO also has three seniors who have experiences both plenty and varied.
Nash and Frauendorfer are four-year starters. Blair-Mobley, after a year off, has transitioned from starting role player at Oklahoma State to a do-it-all player at UNO.
“It’s hard to measure for sure what having seniors like that will do for you, but it helps a lot,” Lindley said. “Their maturity, knowing this is their last year, knowing they have nothing to lose based on where we were picked to finish — they don’t want to look back and have any regrets and they want to make the most of what they can.”
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