If only to re-emphasize his team's role as underdogs at the NAIA Division II national tournament, McPherson College senior guard Mike Reece had a specific list of movies he wanted to watch on the charter bus to Point Lookout, Mo.
"First up was 'Rocky,' then 'Remember the Titans,' " Reece said. "It's time to lock it in, time to get focused... remember what we're going here for, to win a national title."
The Bulldogs take on Dakota Wesleyan on Wednesday in the first round, and are making the first national tournament appearance in school history. It's also just McPherson's second year under coach Tim Swartzendruber, who brought Reece and senior Marlon Dominique — both All-KCAC picks — with him from Hesston College two years ago.
"The bond that I have with Mike and Marlon is something I really cherish," Swartzendruber said. "They believe in me as a coach, and I believe in them as players. Their leadership and ability to get everybody on the same page is a big reason we've been successful."
Reece, a 6-foot-3 guard, leads the Bulldogs at 13.6 points. Dominique (5-7) averages 9.8 points and 2.5 assists. McPherson's other All-KCAC pick, 6-6 forward Antowine Lamb, averages 10.3 points and 8.5 rebounds.
"We had a lot of ups and downs last year, but I felt really good about the guys we brought in and the guys we had coming back," Swartzendruber said. "The work the guys put in together during the summer and the fall made a huge difference. You could see their level of commitment."
The Bulldogs actually had to sweat out their postseason fate after losing to Saint Mary in the quarterfinals of the KCAC. With the KCAC getting two automatic bids and one already locked up by regular-season champion Friends, McPherson had to watch as Bethany almost pulled off the upset of the Falcons in last Tuesday's KCAC title game. The third-seeded Swedes could have clinched the other bid with the victory and ended the Bulldogs' season.
"I'd never seen our guys like that before, just helpless," Swartzendruber said. "You could tell it was gut-wrenching for them to watch the game. They had so much invested in the outcome."
The Bulldogs had several hundred fans come out for a sendoff party on Monday before they left for the national tournament.
"The last week has been kind of crazy at school with people just coming up to us over and over again wishing us good luck," Reece said. "We had a really tough practice Sunday and we're feeling good, focused."