Picked tenth in preseason poll before runner-up finish in regular season, Lynn Milligan is on doorstep of NCAA Tournament at Rider, which would provide storybook ending to this season's MAAC fairy tale. (Photo by Rider University Athletics)
ALBANY, NY -- Rider has spent all season working toward a championship that most felt would be impossible to attain. They now stand 40 minutes away from raising the trophy.
The Broncs, the feel-good story of MAAC women's basketball after being picked to finish next-to-last at the start of the season, have not only survived, they have prospered while doing so, and now stand on the precipice the program's signature moment since bolting the Northeast Conference in 1997.
"I'm a little bit at a loss for words," head coach Lynn Milligan admitted shortly after Rider (24-7) defeated Fairfield to secure a spot opposite regular season champion Quinnipiac on Monday at 5 p.m., with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament awaiting the winner. "We're excited to give ourselves the opportunity to play tomorrow, about the grit and never-say-die attitude of this team. We have 15 young ladies that just believe in each other so much, and I hope it's as obvious to the people watching the game as it is to us. It's an absolute privilege to coach these kids every day knowing the effort that we're going to get."
"It's been a great journey," she reflected. "We said before this tournament started that we don't feel like we've played our best basketball yet. We felt like we still had three great games in us. The first two were great because we won and we stuck together, and we feel like we have one more in us."
The Broncs may not have garnered style points in their road to the championship game, but have simply found ways to win while fighting through adversity. MAAC Player of the Year Robin Perkins has missed the last several games with a foot injury, taking over 15 points per game out of the equation. In her stead, Julia Duggan has reaffirmed her constant post presence by lumbering her way to consecutive double-doubles in victories over Monmouth and Fairfield, and Kamila Hoskova has maintained her status as a capable second scorer while Stella Johnson and Taylor Wentzel anchor the backcourt.
"It doesn't have to be pretty," Milligan cautioned. "It just has to be effective. We just have so many young ladies step up at different moments. That's who we are, that's what we do all year, and we're going to try to do it one more time."