Monday, March 08, 1999

NCAA bid 'a dream' for XU women

Muskies gain respect with eighth seed

Enquirer Contributor

Nikki Kremer, left, is hugged by Susanna Stromberg, while teammates Jonelle Riley, back left, and Meila Leigh celebrate their NCAA berth.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        For just the second time in the 17-year history of the Xavier varsity women's basketball program, the Musketeers are headed to the NCAA Tournament.

        After posting a record of 23-8 this season, the Muskies will head to Storrs, Conn., to play Florida International on Friday.

        Xavier, the eighth seed in the Mideast Regional, had been motivated for much of this season by an urge to earn some respect for the program.

        When they appeared on the television screen Sunday night, the Muskies rejoiced at having gotten not only a bid, but also some respect by being seeded eighth in the region.

        “We didn't really care where we were seeded, we just wanted to be able to play in the tournament and we wanted to be able to prove ourselves once we get there,” said coach Melanie Balcomb. “We haven't been the favorite all year in a lot of respects, and here we make the tournament ... and we're the eight seed playing the nine. I think that will give our kids a little more confidence.”

        It has been a banner year for Xavier. The team's 23 wins is a school record, and the Musketeers handed No.12 Virginia Tech its only two losses of the season.

        The Musketeers' trip to the final of the Atlantic 10 Tournament was the first for XU since joining the league four years ago.

        “It's a dream,” said senior point guard Nikki Kremer of the NCAA bid. “People have talked all year about how we've had a chance, and we're here now.”

        But it was very tense in the room as the first two brackets were unveiled without Xavier appearing. Kremer leaned forward in her chair and clasped her hands tightly in front of her face as the selection show went to a commercial.

        “I've had butterflies in my stomach all day,” she said. “Everybody told me not to doubt it, but until I saw it, I wasn't sure.”

        Xavier was the third school posted after the commercial break, and the team jumped and yelled as they finally saw their team's name.

        “I didn't even see who we were playing,” Kremer said. “I saw Xavier and it was like a million pounds had been lifted off me.”

        Kremer will be under the microscope as the game ap proaches. The Mother of Mercy High School graduate is second in the nation in assists, averaging 8.7 per game. She's been chasing Florida International senior Dalma Ivanyi, who is averaging 9.2 assists.

        “I'm kind of nervous to play her because of all the hype about the assists,” Kremer said.

        Ivanyi feeds the ball inside to 6-1 forward Zuzana Michalcova, who leads the team with an average of 16.6 points. The Golden Panthers ended their season on Saturday with an 84-60 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Sun Belt Conference Championship.

        Xavier's only other NCAA appearance came in 1993 after the team won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference Tournament. XU lost in the first round, 70-64 to Clemson.

        Tipoff Friday will be at approximately 8:30 p.m.

        Xavier Stories
Xavier's bubble bursts
XU goes from hopeful to heartbroken Tim Sullivan column
Xavier returns to Toledo
Men's NIT pairings
- NCAA bid 'a dream' for XU women
Women's NCAA Bracket
Men's NCAA Bracket

Bearcats fall to No. 3 in Duke-led East
UC women get first bid in 10 years
Miami bound for Bourbon Street
Kentucky knows how to win in tournament
Ohio State savors invitation
Who's George Mason? And other musings
CBS quick on the draw
National Invitation Tournament schedule
NCAA Tournament schedule
Women's NCAA Tournament schedule