By Nicole Seekamp | NCAA post season tournaments - amazing first hand experiences and insights
Introducing Coach Mes to High Performance Hoops Network and a preface for Seekamp's blog
Pictured above: Coach Mes in action with Cabra College
I was lucky enough to help coach Nicole Seekamp when she won a Silver medal at the U14 National Club Championships in 2005, and then again as an U18 when she gained a scholarship to the CoE. Her family originally made the big commitment in commuting from the Riverland to Adelaide every weekend for games and practices starting when she was 12 years old, as not only did she have natural talent, but also a goal and a dream to play College basketball in the US. For her last 2 years of High School, she chose to attend school in Adelaide so that she could do more individual sessions and attend the NITP program and the results paid off. The extreme challenges we face to support these athletes, often going it alone as coaches at club level, is why this platform has been setup, to support pathways of our athletes, and resonates so well with Seekamp’s account. In this context I was proud to see the U20 SA men win the national title this week. The SA basketball journey of late has been an amazing one for our boys. Working with a large contingent of the SA boys, seeing the setbacks they faced when not making state teams or high performance programs and/or not even hitting the radar of Australian Development Camps and programs, offering them an alternate path, to seeing the extreme development and improvement they did through their sheer work ethic and determination. Today these players are amongst the greatest junior male players this state has produced and up there with the best current prospects in Australia. This extreme challenge we faced to support these kids, at times going it alone, is why we setup this platform originally and resonates so well with Seekamp’s account. Her story of overcoming setback and adversity, in the case of Seekamp not making the NCAA tournament that 2nd year after coming so close. Then winning a National Invitational Tournament championship instead, still finding her and her team’s way into national championship success and history.
Winning a National Invitational Tournament championship, still finding her and her team’s way into national championship success and history. Despite the challenges, Nicole has now done most everything there is to do on the basketball pathway. Attending the CoE, MVP of the U20 National Championships, Representing Australia. But the college basketball experience, in her own words, is her greatest experience. Nicole leads her school, South Dakota University all-time in assists and steals, and is also second all time in scoring. And was a conference player of the year. She has played in both the NCAA tournament and the WNIT. Here you will see how the end of year college tournaments in college basketball are held in such high regard not only by the public, but also cement players legacies at the schools they attend. After seeing the amazing outcomes of this platform first hand which helped take control of an adverse situation and helped inspire kids to believe in their dreams despite the knockbacks and knockers. Then being involved in establishing it in its infancy as a platform I am now looking forward to coming on board to apply the tools, practices and processes to support girl’s basketball (whilst lending a supporting hand to Janx in the boy’s space) in South Australia.
But, for now
Pictured above: Seekamp after winning a national U20 Finals for SA U20 Women
Over to Nicole.....
My basketball journey has taken me down a very exciting path; from National Championships and a scholarship at the CoE to representing Australia at World Championships to moving across the other side of the world to play for the University of South Dakota Coyotes. It has been an emotional whirlwind with many ups and downs - winning tough games against great opponents, posting individual career highs to losing games against lesser opponents, getting injured, or performing at a level lower than you know you are capable of.
Through all of this, every team has that one same goal that begins in the off-season - to make it to a post-season tournament, specifically the NCAA tournament. Most people have heard about March Madness and know what it is, but to be a part of that is something completely different. There is a heightened sense of excitement running through your team, other athletes, friends, family, and in the community in general; they get to watch more high quality games. The atmosphere on a game day in college is electric, especially when it comes to post-season games. Not only that, within the team you can sense how important each post-season game is to each and every player and coach. Yes you have accomplished your goal of making it to a post-season tournament, but now you just don't want to see your season end with the people that have been your family all year long. In college, you do not take that for granted; every year the team dynamics are different. There are new incoming freshman, transfer players, new seniors, and possibly coaching changes. So each game you go out there and put it all on the line because you never know when it could be the last time with that team.
My Sophomore year we won our conference title, which gave us an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. The whole Coyote community was ecstatic. We were a small division 1 college (who had really just finished their transition period from division 2 to division 1) so this was a huge accomplishment! The positive energy flowing in our community was almost overwhelming. Every day someone was congratulating you, giving you praise, or asking questions about what was to come, and of course there were the countless interviews for local and state newspapers, radio stations, and tv networks. Everyone was excited for us and were waiting eagerly to see who we played and where so they could make the necessary arrangements to support us in whatever way they could. In saying that, selection Monday came the week after we won our conference tournament title; we were finally about to find out who we were up against. My team and I were sitting right in front of the big screen waiting anxiously to see our school name to appear, and after what felt like a decade it finally did. Our opponent - the number 1 ranked Stanford Cardinals. We were set to play a week later in Ames, Iowa (a 3.5 hour SE drive from us). It was then back to the business side of things and preparing as best we could for our NCAA tournament debut. After a week of practices we were finally boarding the bus to Ames. There was an array of emotions building in each of us - excitement, nervousness, anticipation, confidence. We were a 16th ranked team set to play a first ranked team so of course we were nervous, but at the same time that meant we had nothing to lose. Walking into that gym on game day you could just feel the excitement and energy building. Everything behind the scenes was handled so professionally, we felt like royalty. The time to tip-off was winding down and everyone's nerves were peaking. I remember walking out of the locker room and onto the court with huge cheers from, not only our fans but other people who had come to watch; it gave me chills. I was ready. Tip-off came and it was time for the battle to start. We started off well but a basketball game is full of runs and droughts and you know you are playing a great team when they capitalize at those times. We played with a lot of heart and didn't stop until the final buzzer but we just couldn't overcome the strength and toughness of Chiney Ogwumike and the Stanford Cardinals. We were heartbroken. Our season was over. We had put everything on the line and it wasn't enough. But, it did do one thing, it lit a fire within us to work harder and come back better the following season.
And we did. We were regular season conference champions, a feat we didn't accomplish the previous year. We were excited to get to our conference tournament to see if we were going back to the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, the championship game did not go in our favor and instead of returning to the NCAA tournament, we were bound for the WNIT tournament (the second best post-season tournament after the NCAA).
Although that does sound disappointing, every team must face adversity in order to make themselves tougher and better equipped in the future. And that is exactly how we looked at it. For myself and four other teammates, it was our senior year. The last year we would be able to put on a Coyote Jersey and represent the University of South Dakota, so we had to make the most of it.
Pictured above: For Seekamp and team a back to back appearance at the "big dance" was not to be after loosing the championship game of the Summit conference. What was to be next?
We started off the season 0-3. Once again we were faced with some adversity, but we didn't let that discourage us from our goal. So what happened next? We went 24-5 in our regular season and became back-to-back conference champions. We were one step closer to going to the NCAA tournament. We just had to win three games. We won the first two so we were off to the championship game, however that game saw us face our competitive in-state rival the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, and on that particular day we could not overcome them. Our dreams of going 'dancing' had been crushed. At that moment we felt as if our season was over; we didn't accomplish the goal we had set out to do, and we were all devastated. Thankfully we had a coaching staff that did not falter under a loss but who were so invested in us individually and as a team that they brought us all back together and refocused us on a new goal - to win the WNIT. It is ran similarly to the NCAA, however the venue of the game is either at your gym or your opponents rather than in a neutral location.
Our first game was at home against the Creighton Bluejays. A tough, well-coached team who we battled for 40 minutes to get a 6 point win. We were then off to Minneapolis to play Rachel Banham (Pick number 4 in the WNBA draft) and the Minnesota Gophers. We were a little hesitant right out the gate which led to a 22-9 lead in the first quarter by the gophers, but we stuck with it and got ourselves back in the game with some gritty defense and some good shooting. Each and everyone of our players contributed somehow, whether it was getting rebounds or playing great defense, no matter what it was, and I would have to say that was what lead us to win 101-89.
The University of Northern Iowa was our next opponent. Thankfully we were at home and had our crowd behind us to get the 1 point win because we did not play as well as we had the previous game. But in any post-season tournament a win, no matter how pretty or ugly, is still a win and you get to advance to the next round. Western Kentucky were up next, and it was another battle, but we did what we had been doing all season and got the job done on the defensive end to win by 14.
We were only two games away from being WNIT champions. First we had to go through the Oregon Ducks. It was an unbelievable game! We were up 39-25 at halftime so we knew we had to come out just like we did in the first half in order to maintain the lead, and that is exactly what we did if not better. We scored 29 points to their 7 in the third quarter, which ended up sealing the game for us. We were 15/21 three pointers for the game, an outstanding shooting performance by any team. We just had one more game to go.
Pictured above: "Smile you're on TV" after winning the NIT game vs Oregon.
Pictured above: The NIT Championship game was played in packed arena and internationally televised.
Fortunately for us, the championship game against Florida Gulf Coast was set to play on our home court. The atmosphere leading up to it was insane. There were people waiting in line for hours to get tickets to the game, and people were buying tickets to sit in seats where you could hardly see the court. I think the whole state of South Dakota was excited for us because in a way we had put Vermillion and South Dakota on the map. The feeling in our community was just like being in the NCAA tournament all over again, except tripled because we were in the championship game. Only three division 1 women's teams in the nation end on a win and we had the chance to be one of them. The excitement of game day began the night before; the constant visions of how you want the next day to go, the fears of what could happen, and just like that hours have gone by and then you're more stressed about not getting a good nights sleep. That's how I felt anyway. But as soon as I woke up the next day I was as ready as I was going to be. We had endured countless practices and games to prepare us for this moment and, not only that, this was literally going to be the last time that we stepped on the court together. The game was more than just a battle, it was a war. The crowd erupted with each point scored to the point where you couldn't hear anything on the court. There were times when we were in a bit of a dry spot but our crowd really got behind us and motivated us to push a little harder. Both teams had had a long season, and our bodies were exhausted, but neither one of us was going to give up; we were all going to keep fighting it out until that final buzzer sounded. And eventually it did come. The result - Coyotes 71 FGCU 65. We were NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! We had made Coyote history. What better way to finish of a season, and my senior year.
Pictured above: Seekamp with a NIT National Championship and probably the greatest college career of any lady out of South Australa. According to coaches we have spoken to from South Dakota she had a major impact on the program and community in South Dakota.
From being the Conference player my senior year, and an academic all-American, nothing comes close to the end of year tournaments where the spotlight and intensity of NCAA basketball reaches its zenith. Games become more important, nerves run on overdrive, and people all over the world tune in to watch. There are historic moments, cindarella stories, and even blowouts. It's a time of year where everyone involved is excited and emotions run high. In my opinion, it is the best time of the season.