When their NCAA Tournament upsets over Baylor, Tennessee, and California landed the University of Louisville women’s basketball team a spot in last year’s national title game, the team that no one saw coming earned the nickname “the party crashers.”
This year, the No. 5-ranked Cardinals have a new moniker in mind.
“We’re ‘the party planners‘ now,” senior guard Shoni Schimmel said after the team’s season-opening win over Loyola on Saturday night.
Schimmel & Co. believe that the nickname gives the team a new identity- that of a team that has moved from the ranks of the Davids and into the realm of the Goliaths.
“We don’t want to be known as the fluke,” Schimmel added. “We’re coming in like, ‘Now you know about us,‘ and we’re here to play.”
Pulling a string of monumental upsets, including one against arguably the best player in woman’s NCAA history in Baylor’s Brittney Griner, will always introduce a team to the nation. But with recognition comes expectation.
Junior Sara Hammond says that the team’s experience has helped them deal with the pressure tied to a preseason top-five ranking.
“We’re a lot more experienced this year, we have a lot of veterans,” said the 6-foot-2 junior, who pulled down 11 rebounds and chipped in 11 points in the win.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure and a target on our back, but staying together as a collective group and trusting our abilities and our experience as veterans will help carry us through the season.”
Saturday night’s 101-54 win was a nice precursor to the party the Cardinals are planning, but head coach Jeff Walz said after the game that the team must be careful not to get too far ahead of themselves.
Walz biggest gripes were with the team’s poor free throw shooting- the team finished 18 of 34 after going 10 for 14 in the first half- and their handful of defensive lapses.
“Their goals are to get to Nashville, to get back to a Final Four,” Walz said.
“But in order to do that you can’t just sit there and rely on what you’ve done in the past. You’ve got to continue to get better.”
The Cards’ quest for a second-straight Final Four will be greatly aided by their depth. The team got big contributions from several players off the bench. Most notably Jude Schimmel, who scored 11 points (nine by way of the three-point shot), and dished out three assists. The team also got a lift from Tia Gibbs, who after missing the last two seasons with injuries, returned to the court with a 13-point performance, and freshman Emmonnie Henderson, who snagged 12 rebounds in her debut.