|Brandi Dawson has her eyes firmly on the basket, en route to 55 percent shooting and 17.6 points per game.
By Nathan Ford
It’s a mentality seemingly ingrained in every college basketball coach that only becomes more prevalent in March.
One game at a time.
That’s why, when Trine women’s basketball coach Andy Rang was asked about his team’s NCAA Tournament draw this week, he paused.
No. 5 Trine (25-2) opens with Emory (19-6) in the first round. Undoubtedly, the Thunder’s full attention is on the Eagles.
But everyone who watched Monday’s selection show was probably caught off guard with the team just above Trine in the bracket, the team Trine could meet in a second-round game Saturday.
- More Division III NCAA Tournament headlines
- NCAA Tournament bracket
- Watch the first two rounds on D3hoops.com!
No. 1 Thomas More.
No. 1 vs. No. 5 in the second round. Potentially. Huh?
“I have a lot to say about that,” Rang said, “but I’m not going to. It’s what we’ve been dealt. We’ve just got to focus on what’s ahead of us.
“Obviously we have to beat a very good Emory team to even think about maybe Thomas More, so we’re not thinking down the road. It’s not the ideal situation we had envisioned, but it is what it is and we’ve got to go out there and do our best.”
How do we know this team takes seriously the one-game-at-a-time mantra? You don’t go 16-0 in conference play and win the ensuing conference tournament by looking ahead. Trine accomplished that MIAA feat this year for the first time in program history.
“For us to beat a high-quality program and a very tournament-worthy team like Hope College three times, it says a lot about my team,” Rang said. “(16-0) is something that we strived for. It was something that we wanted to accomplish as a team.”
It’s quite an opening act in Rang’s first year as head coach. He took on that role just days before the season when Ryan Gould was let go after an “investigation into potential violations of Gould’s contractual obligations and potential violations of university policies,” according to a university news release.
Rang had been associate head coach for six years, including two before Gould’s tenure, so the transition was about as seamless as one could hope. Trine hasn’t lost since Dec. 29 and the school removed Rang’s interim tag Jan. 31.
“It happened pretty early on in the season so I think we handled it well,” Trine senior Cassidy Williams said. “We handled it right when it happened. We kind of got past it as the season went on, so I think we’re in a good place right now.”
Williams and her fellow seniors weren’t going to let an unexpected coaching change derail their final act at Trine.
When Williams, Brandi Dawson, Shaely Duff and Montana Martin arrived on campus, Trine was coming off a 15-10 season. It was better than the previous year’s 6-19 mark, but Williams admits she had no vision at the time of the type of success they’ve realized. Soon, though, higher goals were set and higher goals were achieved.
Trine is 95-17 in this class’ tenure with three conference championships, two MIAA tournament championships, three NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16.
“To be able to achieve these goals in a short period of time is really incredible,” Williams said.
This group has meant Rang could adjust to his new role without worrying about the players’ mentality.
“It’s been everything to me,” Rang said. “I’ve been able to talk to our captains and our seniors a lot. When you’re not there and they’re in the locker room by themselves, it’s great to have those leaders that have been through the wars and know what it takes, to just sit there and mentor those young kids when you’re not around.”
They lead by example, too. Rang said Williams “is the hardest-working player I may have ever coached.” After averaging 5.0, 6.4 and 7.1 points over her first three seasons, she knew she’d be counted on to score more this season. So she got in the gym, and basically never left.
The result: Williams is a first-team all-conference player averaging 12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game and shooting 50.7 percent from the field.
“I put in a lot of time in the offseason to be able to score a little more and look to score a little more,” Williams said. “In the past, I don’t think that that was my role on the team, to score … I’ve loved my role each and every year and I’m used to different roles.”
“She worked all summer long, all fall she still came in everyday and shot on the gun,” Rang said. “She has made herself a first-team all-conference player. That’s how focused she is.”
With Williams’ offensive improvement complementing three-time MIAA player of the year Dawson (17.6 points per game, 55.4 field goal percentage, 43.8 3-point percentage) and a scoring defense ranked 15th nationally (50.1), you have the makings of a national title contender.
Of course, you’d expect a team with the accomplishments this team has would want to be rewarded with the opportunity for a long run before meeting the top-ranked team in the country. They don’t have to say that. But you also get the sense that this Trine team is excited for any challenge that comes its way, whenever that may be.
“To say that this year is different than any other, I don’t think so,” Williams said. “But it being my last year, I know I don’t want to lose. I’m ultra-focused.”