Long-term goal achieved with No. 18 ranking

By Carl Ackerman

An old saying states that when one’s back is turned one is most vulnerable to surprise.

That is exactly what happened to the NIU women’s basketball team when it went to Monday’s practice.

Upon arriving, Coach Jane Albright told her squad some unexpected good news. NIU (22-4, 11-0) jumped into the nation’s Top-20 polls for the first time ever at No. 18.

All season the Huskies have been rising slowly in the polls. However, the pace was so slow there was some doubt whether NIU would ever make the Associated Press Top-20 with three games left and a No. 22 ranking the previous week.

“It’s definitely another highlight to the season,” said Albright. “It just adds to the excitement. It took us a while to get into the Top-25, but we’ve gradually come up and we’ve never gotten lower. It’s really nice for national recognition.”

Many of the players had hopes of breaking the Top-20 earlier in the season after beating Northwestern once and De Paul twice. These hopes faded away—until Monday.

“I had no idea. I thought we would break in earlier. When we got the news, it was a total surprise, but we want to keep going,” said junior point guard Denise Dove.

Teammate Kris Weis was just as surprised.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was overwhelmed. We really got a lot of points (383 in the polls),” said Weis.

The record-high number of points placed NIU four figures shy of 17th-ranked South Carolina. Last week the Huskies had 264 points. The cause for the four-point jump is not entirely clear when most teams usually move one or two positions per week. The Huskies seem proud of it and have a few ideas of their own about the big jump.

“I think it’s a combination of people above us that lost, and we won some very big games,” said Albright. Those big scoring games Albright mentioned include a 122-86 pounding over Valparaiso (Feb. 20) and a 116-58 mauling over Illinois-Chicago (Feb. 25).

“It was one of our goals (to get to the Top-20), but we were a little surprised (at the four point jump),” said junior guard Toby Meeks. “Everybody was ecstatic when they found out. That is what we’ve been working for, and we just want to keep it going.”

Senior Carol Owens feels it’s a great honor to have a new team like NIU in the nation’s elite.

“We jumped in the Top-25 by mid season. They say that’s the hardest thing to do (for a new team). I think anything is possible. We may move up even higher in the polls next week,” said Owens.

Last year’s team reached as high as No. 22 before stumbling at the season’s end and slipping in the polls. NIU didn’t want that to happen again as Dove explained.

“We ran out of gas last year. This year it’s like were on a mission to go to the NCAA, and we’re not going to settle for anything less,” said Dove.