Point guard Kara Pollinger admits it took time for the Navy women's basketball team to recover from its upset loss to Holy Cross in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament. It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Pollinger and her fellow seniors, who had been part of three consecutive conference championship teams.
"Obviously, we wanted to be champions of our tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament so it did take a while to get over the fact that we didn't," Pollinger said. "The most frustrating thing to get over was that we didn't play well."
Navy coach Stefanie Pemper gave the players four days off before resuming practice for the National Invitational Tournament, which Navy was obligated to play in after capturing the Patriot League regular season championship. By the time the team returned to the practice court, the Mids had come to grips with what happened and were ready to move on.
"We still have a chance to do something special, something that's never been done in the history of the Patriot League," Pollinger said. "It's a great opportunity. The names of the tournament are different, but it's still the same exciting stuff. It's still March Madness."
Navy (24-7) will travel to Norfolk on Thursday night for a first-round game against Old Dominion (17-15), which tied for sixth in Conference USA. The Mids are hoping to erase the bad taste left from last Tuesday's 19-point loss to a Crusaders club they beat twice during the regular season.
"I'm definitely excited to get another chance to take the court with my teammates, especially my classmates," said Pollinger, who went scoreless on 0-for-9 field goal shooting against Holy Cross. "We feel absolutely privileged to have another game. Hopefully, we can end on a high like we're capable of. It's another opportunity to show that we're a great team."
A Patriot League team has never won a game in the NIT while Navy is still seeking its first victory in a national tournament. The Mids suffered first-round losses in the NCAA Tournament the last three years.
"Obviously, we want to come out and play better than we did in our last game. This team's had a special season in a lot of ways and hopefully we can continue that," Pemper said. "It would be another great accomplishment for these seniors to win in a postseason tournament of this nature."
Pemper said the players seemed rested and refreshed when they returned to practice on Saturday and was pleased with the intensity level.
"We had a really good practice and everybody went hard. Their looked to be a lot of energy, and even some anger," she said.
Old Dominion, under the direction of third-year head coach Karen Barefoot, got hot down the stretch and won six straight games before falling in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament. The Monarchs are led by junior forward Shae Kelly, a first team All-Conference USA selection after averaging 19.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. The 6-foot-1 Colorado native posted 16 double-doubles and scored 30 points or more three times.
"Old Dominion is a different type of team than what we see in the Patriot League. They play a different style," Pemper said. "They look impressive on tape. They look a little more athletic than us, but not much bigger than us."
Navy played opponents with great size and length during its three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. DePaul, Maryland and Kentucky were all taller across the board, which made it difficult for Navy on both ends of the floor.
Pemper pointed out that Navy has experience against Conference USA teams, having beaten Marshall this season and East Carolina last season. Old Dominion lost to East Carolina and needed overtime to edge Marshall this season.
"Our challenge is to bring the same mentality that we brought into the NCAA Tournament to Norfolk on Thursday," Pemper said.