By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Exuberant cheers loud enough to be heard across Curtin Road from Beaver Stadium rang through the Founder's Room located inside the Bryce Jordan Center on Monday evening.
The reason being, No. 15/14 Penn State (22-7, 13-3) clinched their fourth-straight NCAA tournament appearance and earned the No. 3 seed in the Stanford Region.
More importantly, however, is the fact that the NCAA rewards programs that have a strong following of loyal ESPN crew fans, which means the Lady Lions will have home court advantage during the first two rounds of tournament play.
The Blue and White will open tournament play against No. 14 Wichita State (26-6, 14-4 Missouri Valley) on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
Hearing the words "Bryce Jordan Center" uttered by the ESPN crew broadcasting the Selection Show had head coach Coquese Washington excited about being able to play the first two rounds in a building where her team has had success all season long.
"We love playing at home," said Washington. "We've been a good home team for the past few years. When our fans come out and cheer us on, it can definitely be a true home court advantage for us."
For the four seniors on Washington's squad, they will all have one, and possibly two, last hurrahs playing on the court that they have spent the majority of their time on the past four years.
"I'm so excited to play at home," said senior Talia East. "I love the Bryce Jordan Center and any additional games that I can play here I'm excited about. Making it through these first two games would mean everything to me. We're looking at it one game at a time, so we're pretty focused on Wichita State."
With that being said, hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament is something that Washington and her team has been aware of for some time now.
For that reason, this isn't the first time that Washington has mentioned to her senior class about the idea of having another opportunity to play in front of their home fans.
"We talked about it [playing at home] back on senior night," said Washington. "We told them [the Michigan game] wasn't their last time playing here. To finish out the season in front of their home fans, to get another crack at playing in front of the home fans in the NCAA Tournament, I know they're excited about it."
However, being rewarded with home court advantage for the first two rounds is a completely different story for the freshmen on the team.
"The freshmen have no idea what this means," said Washington. "We could be playing down at the YMCA...This is going to be a completely new experience for them. I hope they just enjoy it, take it in and that it creates a hunger for them moving forward to make sure that we're in this position every year."
Washington's brute honesty regarding the freshmen's tournament inexperience supersedes the comforts of beginning their tournament career on their home court. With that being said, the freshmen players are excited for what's ahead.
"I'm really excited," said freshman Kaliyah Mitchell. "We have four seniors on the team and being able to play at home in the tournament is great for them. We have a feel for how the crowd is going to be and that will really help. We know the games are going to be really competitive, so it's great to be home for the first two games."
At the same time, Mitchell realizes that playing in her first ever NCAA tournament will still be a challenging assignment for her and her freshmen teammates, but might just be a little bit easier on their home court.
"It will be easier to adjust to the tournament being able to play in front of our home crowd," said Mitchell. "I've never been in this situation and none of the other freshmen have been in this situation either, but I know this will be a great experience."
Rounding out the first rounds games in University Park are No. 6 seed Dayton (23-7, 14-2 A-10) and No. 11 seed Florida (19-12, 8-8 SEC) who tip off at 3 p.m. Sunday. The winners will advance to the second round game on Tuesday, March 25 at 7 p.m.