Anyone that has ever wanted to see pure, unadulterated joy needed only to be at D.J. Sokol Arena at 6:38 Monday night.
That's when the Creighton women's basketball team saw its name pop up on two large television screens. It came after 61 other teams were announced as participants in the NCAA tournament.
It came when the Bluejays had almost given up hope that they would receive an at-large bid.
And when the announcement came, the Creighton players and coaches went wild. They jumped. They screamed. They cried, their tears of joys replacing the ones of disappointment that seemed destined to fall only seconds before.
“Sitting amid the players, you could feel the tension,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “They got more and more quiet over the course of the selection show. Everyone was nervous before, but you could just feel the nerves building.”
Most of the players were so overwhelmed by seeing Creighton pop up on the screen that they failed to note who the Bluejays' opponent would be or when they were playing.
For the record, Creighton's second straight tournament appearance and fifth overall will come Saturday at 10:20 a.m. in Knoxville, Tenn. The Bluejays will be playing seventh-seeded Syracuse.
That means the Bluejays are a No. 10 seed, which contributed to the drama of the selection show. The projections had Creighton (24-7) as a No. 11 seed after the Bluejays had failed to earn the Missouri Valley's automatic berth.
“I was expecting an 11 seed at the highest,” Creighton senior guard Ally Jensen said. “When we got to the last bracket, I saw the 11 and the 12 and then the 14 go to other teams. I just closed my eyes to try not to let the tears come.
“Then I heard people going crazy, looked up and saw our name and heard Creighton. That's one of the happiest feelings I ever felt.”
The news rocketed teammate Sarah Nelson out of her seat. She broke into tears as she screamed and hugged other players.
“Oh, my gosh, this is crazy,” Nelson said. “You work so hard for so long. We started practice 5˝ months ago. To have it all come down to the next-to-last announcement, that's crazy.
“This is everything we have worked for.”
Flanery's team had put together a résumé that had outsiders projecting that Creighton would be in line for its first at-large berth in the NCAA field since 1994. Still, Flanery knew he was taking his chance by subjecting his players to a public watch party that drew about 100 people to the team's homecourt.
Many coaches of teams that are squarely on the bubble on selection day prefer to sequester their players away from the public. That way, if things don't go as hoped, the players are at least shielded from having others see the pain that comes with being left out of the field.
The Creighton players and coaches were seated in a couple of rows of chairs close to one of the television screens. Reporters and television cameramen were about 20 feet away, recording the mounting discomfort that came with seeing team after team being announced.
“That waiting was the worst,” Jensen said. “I got to thinking why did we decide to do this (watch) party, but it turned out to be worth it.”
Flanery and his staff tracked the selections against projections, which led the coaches to maybe be a little more optimistic than the players. Still, with less than a handful of selections to be made, Flanery knew things didn't look good for his team.
“When we didn't get the 11 (seed) in the final bracket, I thought we were out of luck,” Flanery said. “But we were going off the bracketology, and we were supposed to be the second-to-last team in. The only team that was supposed to be out that was in was Kansas, so I felt like we still had a chance.
“There were four or five other teams that I felt like were in that same boat. I knew we weren't going to be a 15 (seed) or a 2, so I knew we were running out of spots on the bracket. When we were announced, it was an incredible feeling.”
One that left Flanery with a sense of vindication. For years, Creighton has played the toughest nonconference schedule in the Valley, with the idea that if the Bluejays could do well, it could put them in position for an at-large bid.
Prior to this year, Creighton never had done well enough to even put itself in the conversation at the end of the season. But the Bluejays went 8-3 against a nonconference schedule that included five opponents that wound up in the 64-team field.
Creighton followed that by earning a share of the Valley regular-season championship for the first time since 2003. The Bluejays won their first game at the conference tournament before losing Saturday to Illinois State in overtime.
“Everyone in our conference has made fun of the way we schedule,” Flanery said. “For me personally, this feels pretty good. I think this did come down to nonconference scheduling.
“I knew we had a veteran team, and I felt we had to give ourselves more chances to win hard games. I think our overall nonconference résumé put us over the top.”
Nelson said the players were glad to be a part of Flanery's told-you-so moment.
“I know that people doubted him and asked why do you schedule so hard,” she said. “The tough schedule can be daunting, but it's awesome that he believes in us enough to schedule the games that ultimately got us to where we're at.”
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• Video: Creighton players react to the announcement:
• Video: Creighton coach Jim Flanery:
• Video: Creighton's Ally Jensen: