WINONA LAKE – It’s been documented in his first season that Grace women’s basketball coach Dan Davis is a bundle of energy. His attitude, his southern charm, all that comes with the idea, has been a breath of fresh air in the women’s program. But that all won’t matter much in the short term if Grace doesn’t reach the goals it has set for itself in the coming days of the NCCAA National Championships.
As host of the tournament, Grace got the automatic bid, but Davis is adamant his team wasn’t just handed the bid and its No. 5 seed. He has a point. His team played in 14 contests featuring an opponent ranked in some fashion, and despite a 2-12 mark against those teams, those two wins came in February. For a team that has played a brutal schedule which included a road trip to Arizona in December, Davis got a trial by fire to the way of the land in the Crossroads League. The rallying cry now is use what has been learned and get three wins this week.
“For us, we have to finish strong,” Davis said. “We had a nice stretch in the season where we went 6-2 after a toss loss to Taylor before we hit the conference tournament, and then took Wesleyan to overtime. I like how we are playing, and feel like we are playing our best ball of the year.”
Rather than buckle down and add pressure to the national tournament goal sheet, Davis has employed the idea of letting the tournament be what it is. Playing at home in front of a campus full of students for the first time in years (Grace has been on spring break the past few years of the NCCAAs), Davis wants his team to relish and embrace being the hosts. That starts with being visible.
“Number one, they earned this,” proclaimed Davis. “We have made sure this feels like a national championship. Yeah, we’re not going to a Florida or Branson or whatever, but we’re going to stuff that has a different feel. We’re going to the Boathouse, going to the Tebow movie. We want to make this as fun of an experience as possible. Our top priority is these are not regular season games. These are games in a national championship tournament, and we just happen to host. We get to sleep in our beds, but we also have a great opportunity on our hands.”
Grace will play Bluefield in the 7:30 p.m. game Wednesday in the prime time slot, Grace trying to win a first-round game for only the second time in its 10 previous appearances in the tournament. Grace’s best finish is third, achieved in 2012, but Davis and his crew have their sights set much, much higher.
“The reality of this is Grace has never won this, and we have the chance to do something that has never been done here,” Davis said. “There’s no NCCAA, there’s no NAIA banners anywhere. We have the chance to be the first team to win it. We know what that would mean to be Grace community, the community in general, the alumni base, the fans of this program. We feel like this is our time.”