COLUMBIA — At about 10:15 p.m. Monday, coach Robin Pingeton received the news — the Missouri women's basketball team's postseason drought had ended.
“Definitely a sigh of relief,” Pingeton said. "We felt pretty optimistic, but until you actually see your name across that screen or get that phone call or email, you can’t know for sure.”
Eastern Illinois (19-11)
at Missouri (17-14, 6-10 SEC)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR 100.5/103.1 FM
The Tigers (17-14) were selected to participate in the Women's National Invitation Tournament — the first time in six years that Missouri has advanced to the postseason. For the seniors on the team, the news meant an opportunity to perform for fans once more at Mizzou Arena.
"I was in my room watching Family Guy when I got the text," senior Liene Priede said. "I was like ‘Yay! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”
On the other side of the apartment, senior center and roommate Liz Smith shared her excitement.
"All night, I was looking at my phone thinking, OK it’s 9 o’clock, when is it going to come?" Smith said. "When we got the text saying it was at home, LP [Priede] came running in my room yelling, ‘We did it!’"
Missouri likely secured a WNIT bid when it beat then-No. 14 South Carolina on February 28 to guarantee a .500 or better overall record.
"Not only are we excited for the young kids and the additional experience, but for our seniors, too — to be able to go out knowing they got to postseason," Pingeton said. "They've worked really hard."
Sydney Crafton — the only player to have been with the team for all four years — recalls practicing with her team in the offseason and breaking practices with the chant, "postseason."
"It’s just a good feeling to know our season is not over," Crafton said, smiling. "I get to play at Mizzou Arena again."
Crafton has had her most successful season, averaging 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.
"It’s one of those things where you don’t get it back," she said. "So you’ve just got to play every game like it’s your last."
Priede and Smith have also ended their college basketball careers on high notes. Priede had a slow start, but ended up averaging 4.6 pointsfor the season.
Smith excelled her senior year. After coming into the season as a 31.4-percent shooter, she has improved to 53.3 percent and averages 5.2 rebounds a game.
"I’ll tell you what, she’s a success story," Pingeton said of Smith. "She doesn’t quite have the same athleticism of a lot of players who she competes against. I just think it’s her grit — determination. She’s a fighter."
While the team exchanged excitement over the news via text messages Monday night, the celebration was short lived.
"I just went to bed," Priede said.
"It wasn’t really a celebration," Smith added. "It was just like, ‘We’ve got this. Now we’ve got to get ready.’"
Smith also remembers the "postseason" chants from a year ago.
"It’s so weird to me that we’re already here — this is it," Smith said. "I feel like the season is not at all close to being over."
Missouri will host its first-round game against Eastern Illinois at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena. If the Tigers win, they would play the winner of the game between Illinois and Miami of Ohio.
"Right now, it's like, let's get to work," Crafton said. "There is no time to celebrate."