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Bradley Women’s Basketball Team Excited, Grateful For First NCAA Bid

Facebook / Bradley University Athletics
The Bradley women's basketball team earned its first NCAA Tournament invitation by winning the Missouri Valley Conference title Sunday in Moline. The Braves will play Texas in a first-round matchup Monday.

Andrea Gorski never got to experience an NCAA Tournament in her playing days with the Bradley University women’s basketball team. Neither did anyone else who suited up for the Braves.

Until now.

“We had some good teams the four years I played here,” said Gorski, now Bradley’s head coach. “But it's just always burned me when someone says, ‘Oh, you know, your teams were pretty good. Did you ever get to the tournament?’ ‘No.’

“Well, now I can say, ‘Yep, I've gone to the tournament with Bradley,’ and I'm just really excited that the kids can say that, too.”

After claiming the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid over the weekend, the Braves watched Monday night’s selection show intently to find out their next opponent. Bradley received a No. 11 seed in the NCAA field and will face sixth-seeded Texas in a first-round matchup Monday night in San Marcos, Texas.

“We were all just waiting there because we had no idea what seed we were going to get,” said standout senior guard Gabi Haack, who was named the Valley tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. “It's surreal to see ‘Bradley Braves’ on the tournament bracket. We're all really excited and I’m ready to play. We're ready to keep going and we're ready to go to Texas.”

The Braves are 17-11 and riding a five-game winning streak, including three games in three days at the Valley tournament in Moline. The NCAA berth is particularly rewarding after COVID-19 brought an abrupt end to the best season in Bradley history a year ago.  

“It was pretty devastating last year to have that tournament canceled,” Haack said of the pandemic wiping out the postseason as the Braves were about to bring a 22-7 record into the Valley’s Hoops In The Heartland event.

“We were all ready to get on the bus and everything, and then we were told a couple hours later that the whole tournament was canceled. We all basically just went home the next day and then honestly never came back because of COVID. So that was really hard for us.”

Whether the Braves would have made the NCAA field last year will forever remain unknown. Gorski said she feels for two-time Bradley athletics Most Outstanding Female Athlete Chelsea Brackmann and the other 2020 seniors.

“It’s bittersweet for those seniors to see,” said Gorski. “Of course, we're family and they want the best for us and love it, but it just kind of maybe hits home a little bit that they never got that opportunity and I don’t blame them. We're going to go out there and play our hearts out and make those seniors from last year proud.”

Gorski said she and the players are grateful for the NCAA opportunity and last year’s sudden finish led to a greater appreciation for “the little things” during a basketball season, like bus rides and team meals.

“When bad things happen, you know there's a silver lining somewhere,” said Gorski. “We just feel grateful every day that we were able to compete this year and certainly we're going to be very grateful too once we get into San Antonio to be able to play on a national stage.”

The San Antonio metropolitan area is hosting the entire tournament, with some first-round games in Austin (80 miles away) and others, including the Bradley-Texas matchup in San Marcos (between the two cities), at Texas State University’s Strahan Arena.   

Texas (18-9) is led by 6-foot-5 junior forward/center Charlie Collier, who Gorski said could be the top pick in the next WNBA draft. The game tips off at 7 p.m. Monday and will be televised on ESPN2.

“If you’re going to go to Texas, you might as well play the Longhorns,” said Gorski.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.