The Lady Statesmen (No. 3 seed, 19-9) will begin the next phase of their quest for their first national championship since 1992 on Friday when they play the University of North Alabama Lady Lions (No. 6 seed, 20-10) in the first round of the region tournament at Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on the campus of Nova Southeastern University at 11 a.m. (CST).
Despite having just one senior on the team, the Lady Statesmen have continued to hold their own like a true winning program under first year head coach David Midlick. Over their last 15 games, the Lady Statesmen are 11-4.
“The team has played extremely hard,” Midlick said. “They’ve played really good team defense, especially down the stretch in February and early March. They’re very deserving of a three seed. They’ve worked extremely hard during the course of the year, especially during this last month or so.”
Delta State will be looking for better results in this tournament than what the team had in the Gulf South Conference Tournament at Birmingham, Ala. The Lady Statesmen defeated West Florida 61-58 in the first round but lost to Alabama-Huntsville 68-57 in the semifinals. Alabama-Huntsville, a No. 7 seed in the region tournament with a 15-16 record, defeated West Alabama 82-59 in the title game to win the GSC championship.
The biggest thing about the region tournament is all the teams have similar records. Top seeded Nova Southeastern is 20-8, second seeded Tuskegee is 19-7, fourth seeded Lynn is 18-9, fifth seeded Rollins is 21-8 and eighth seeded Clark Atlanta is 19-10.
“All the teams were pretty close in their RPI during the regional bid process and there are a lot of good teams,” Delta State head coach David Midlick said. “Us, North Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville are on the same side of the bracket. It will feel like a Gulf South Conference Tournament in Fort Lauderdale. We’ll have to play extremely well against North Alabama.”
DSU has an overall record of 2-5 against teams in the regional field. DSU is 1-1 against Tuskegee, 1-2 against Alabama-Huntsville and, more importantly, 0-2 against North Alabama. Delta State lost to North Alabama 59-58 in Cleveland and 52-42 in Florence, Ala.
The Lady Lions are led by first team All-GSC selection Kekena Randle (11.4 ppg., 9.2 rpg., Jr., forward) and second team All-GSC selection Nichelle Fillmore (11.2 ppg., 5.4 rpg., Jr., forward).
“They are tough inside,” Midlick said about UNA. “They have two all conference post players. They have big guards and a little more size than us. They’re very physical. We’re going to have to respond to how physical the game is. I thought they did a good job of pushing out of our offense and comfort level. We’re going to have to be ready for that from the start.”
The Lady Statesmen, who only have one senior, have been anchored by sophomore forward and first team All-GSC selection Rhandi Ball (11.6 ppg., 7.4 rpg., 2.6 apg.) and sophomore center and second team All-GSC selection Seneca Walton (13.1 ppg., 79 rpg.). Both players have already combined for over 1,000 points in their careers. Walton has scored 504 points in her career, while Ball is just two points away from the 500-point plateau at 498. Ball has stepped up her game as of late as she back-to-back 25-point performances in the GSC Tournament. She also pulled down 18 total rebounds with 11 steals in her two games at Birmingham.
“She had a great Gulf South Conference Tournament,” Midlick said. “She went out and proved why the coaches voted her first team. We sure hope and expect that same type of effort on the floor on Friday.”
Freshman guard and GSC Freshman of the Year Chelsey Rhodes (12.1 ppg.) will also be counted on heavily to produce for the Lady Statesmen.
The winner of the DSU-North Alabama game will take on the winner of the Tuskegee-Alabama-Huntsville on Saturday at 4 p.m. The championship game of the region is set for Monday at 6 p.m. The winner of the region will play in the Elite Eight Tournament in San Antonio, Texas on Mar. 27.