UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Before Jody Adams came to Wichita State, there was no proud history, no tradition, no championships to adore.
Win or lose on Sunday, the Shockers will be able to hang their third and fourth banners inside Koch Arena to commemorate the best season in program history.
Wichita State (26-6) plays third-seeded and No. 14-ranked Penn State, the three-time reigning Big Ten champions, in WSU’s second consecutive NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed.
“This is going to be a tradition at some point in time down the road here for Wichita State,” Adams said at her news conference on Saturday. “We are starting tradition.”
Adams is no stranger to tradition. She played for legendary coach Jim Smiddy at Bradley Central (Tenn.) High before leading the Volunteers to the Final Four as the starting point guard for former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.
Throw in accomplished players Bridgette Gordon and Dana Eikenberg, as well as noted post guru Kirk Crawford, and Adams has surrounded herself in excellence at WSU.
“What they’ve accomplished as players in their career carries over to their coaching,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “That’s the first thing that stands out is that they are a very successful team, and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Wichita State has increased its win total in the last three seasons, and has won 20 games three seasons in a row for the first time in program history.
When these current players were recruited to WSU by Adams, they could tell that the program was on the upswing. Conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances seemed plausible to them.
Now that they’ve done it two years in a row, they hope their play starts to earn Wichita State respect. In the Valley, on the recruiting path, and nationally.
“I think we’ve proven that we actually have some really great players,” WSU sophomore Michaela Dapprich said. “We’ve shown that we can get this far before. Now we want to show that we can win here.”
The Shockers entered the season having lost over half of its production on offense and all of its leadership, leaving this team with exactly one senior and exactly no post players over 6-foot-1.
But this group is entirely different from last season’s squad that made the program’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Whether they led on or not, there was a certain satisfaction in being the group that got the Shockers there.
This team wants more.
“We realized what we had to do earlier in the season and what we had to do over the summer to get our games ready for March,” WSU junior Alex Harden said. “Experience is always good. We learned from last year and now we’re ready to take the next step.”
And to know that 11 of 12 players on the roster will return next season with the experience of playing in big games, such as the Missouri Valley championship and the NCAA Tournament.
That is invaluable, and that is what excites Adams the most about the future. These moments will be what is looked back upon when discussing the birth of what Adams plans to be a dynasty.
Sunday is another moment.
“We have to show them that we are here for a reason,” Harden said. “We are here to win. We have come ready to play with all of our tools and all of our armor.”