ST. CHARLES, Mo. — For a brief moment, Jody Adams stood still and closed her eyes.
Music was blaring and bedlam engulfed the Wichita State sideline, but Adams gained serenity and then processed she was a champion.
So she danced.
Her moves won’t be the next YouTube sensation, but Adams jubilantly poking out her limbs in the middle of the dance circle was good enough on Sunday in the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo.
The Wichita State women’s basketball team will play in its first NCAA Tournament in the program’s 30-year history after defeating Illinois State 69-65 in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
“It was a moment of thankfulness,” Adams said. “I am truly blessed. We have a 24-hour rule, but I think this one will last a little more than 24 hours.”
Jessica Diamond, Chynna Turner and Jazimen Gordon — the three four-year seniors — became the foundation of this team by carrying the Shockers at their lowest point. They made the plays because they had to make the plays — there was no one else.
When the grand finale came and the curtains dropped on the culmination of the last four years, the trio found that the rest of the team had been bonded through them. No longer did they have to be the main act.
“This is a team that really loves each other,” Adams said. “They respect one another. They care about one another. They will lay their bodies on the line for one another. That’s when you know you have a special team in the making.”
Sophomore Alex Harden saw the pain in the eyes of the seniors when they spoke of the 20-point drubbings that frequented their first years at Wichita State. She respected the work they put in to bring the program to where it was when Harden arrived.
So when Wichita State absolutely needed a basket to protect a 1-point lead late, Harden extracted one last powerful burst from her exhausted body to score on a drive with 20 seconds left. She finished with 19 points.
“She can’t be stopped,” Diamond summarized.
Freshman Michaela Dapprich’s emergence in St. Charles was a direct result of the three seniors staying in her ear after she was not recognized on the MVC’s All-Freshmen squad.
“We made sure she took it personal,” Turner said.
Dapprich’s vendetta turned into a 14.3-point average in three tournament games, including 19 in the championship game.
All three of Dapprich’s three-pointers on Sunday came at crucial junctures of the game, as the freshman transformed into one of the team’s surest shots down the stretch.
“I’m happy for them,” Dapprich said. “All I could do is my best for them.”
This time her best was recognized, as Dapprich was named to the all-tournament team.
“The best freshman was the last one standing,” Turner said.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve hugged her, but I’m going to keep hugging her,” Diamond added at the press conference.
It required one of the best offensive performances of the season to survive Illinois State senior Jamie Russell’s onslaught in the first half, where she scored 20 points on 10 of 11 shooting, but Wichita State produced every time it needed.
When Diamond got the ball and realized what she was dribbling out the final seconds of, a smile of pure joy that had been four years in-the-making covered her face.
“It was pouring out of me,” she said. “It was pouring out of my eyes. I was tearing up. It was overwhelming.”
Turner didn’t let the trophy escape her grasp after she finally held it.
“Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and realize I’m a champion,” Turner said, “because this is all surreal to me right now.”
Off in the corner of the court was Adams surveying the pandemonium.
This is what she came to Wichita five years ago to do.
But a championship won’t be what Adams remembers the most.
“It goes beyond the X’s and O’s,” Adams said. “I hope they understand they can do anything they want in life now. They know what it takes. That’s the stuff you remember after hanging banners and cutting down nets.”
ILLINOIS STATE (23-10): Jenkins 0-2 0-0 0, Foley 0-2 2-2 2, Russell 12-20 2-4 27, Smith 7-13 5-6 19, Puni 4-7 4-5 12, Sykes 2-9 0-0 5, Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Oliver 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-53 13-17 65.
WICHITA STATE (24-9): Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Dapprich 7-14 2-2 19, Fountaine 2-6 0-0 4, Harden 8-15 3-4 19, Turner 4-9 3-6 12, Diamond 4-9 2-3 11, Price 2-2 0-0 4, Gordon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-55 10-15 69.
Halftime—Wichita State 40, Illinois State 39. 3 pt. shooting—Illinois State 2-7 (Russell 1-1, Sykes 1-4, Jenkins 0-1, Foley 0-1), Wichita State 5-13 (Dapprich 3-5, Turner 1-1, Diamond 1-2, Harden 0-2, Fountaine 0-3). Rebounds—Illinois State 30 (Puni 10), Wichita State 29 (Turner 7). Assists—Illinois State 10 (Jenkins 3), Wichita State 14 (Diamond 4). Total fouls—Illinois State 13, Wichita State 14.