At LIU Post, making the Division II NCAA Tournament is usually a given in most sports. The real goal is advancing deep into postseason play. Women's basketball could be poised to join the university's other championship-caliber teams. The Pioneers (20-5) have earned the top seed and home-court advantage in next week's East Coast Conference tournament.
Post's top player is junior guard Chelsea Williams, a former All-Long Island star at Copiague High School. "My last two years we lost in the first round," she said of the NCAA appearances, "so I think that this year we're a totally better team than last year. Our only goal right now is to win the ECC, we're not really worried about getting the bid. When the tournament comes around we'll be ready."
Pairings for the ECC tournament, which produces an automatic NCAA Tournament bid for the winner, will be announced Sunday.
Post players do not have to look far for motivation. Post women's lacrosse is going for three straight NCAA titles and softball often makes a strong run. "That's something that we're trying to spread over into women's basketball," coach Deirdre Moore said. "For the most part Post has always been a competitive school. These last few years the players have just kind of taken it on themselves that they want to try and be mentioned with the teams that are elite."
Williams said, "Being around winners makes you want to win. We want to bring an NCAA title back to our school, just like the lacrosse team."
Williams may be the key to an extended postseason run. A strong candidate for the conference player of the year, the 5-7 guard is averaging 19.2 points and 6.0 rebounds. She set a single-season school record for free throws with 178, breaking Patrice Walker's 156 in the 1980-81 season.
Moore said Williams has progressed each season. "I remember her freshman year she spent a lot of time really with offensive rebound putbacks, running through the offense, playing hard on defense, she was pretty content with that role. As a sophomore, you could see her post up a little bit more, the different abilities she had started coming out as the team needed them. She had a great sophomore year. She made a couple of big threes, really started to put her stamp on the program.
"Right now, she's been our best and most consistent player. She scored double digits in 23 of 25 games. She's made more foul shots than anybody in the East Region."
Williams has a good supporting cast in guard Kiki Sears (12.5 ppg), forward Shayna Gatling (11.5, 6.4 rpg), guard Alexis Peters ( 13.4, 5.7 rpg, 4.9 assists) and forwards Nyasia Davis and Nijah LaCourt. "I don't really think stopping me will give the other team a chance to win," said Williams, "because there are four other people on the court with me. So if I'm going to be face-guarded or box-and-oned I have to rely on my teammates. I think they can pick up when I'm down. It's not really stopping me, they have to stop all five of us that are on the court."
Post is 11-1 at home, with the only loss coming against Bentley, the top-ranked team in Division II. "We had Bentley on our home floor," Moore said. "We lost by 12 in a game that probably three or four more minutes it could have been a different outcome.
"We are ranked fourth in the region right now, we have a good chance to get that at-large bid, but we want to win the ECC. The seniors won it as freshmen and they are in more impactful roles now. Chelsea doesn't have an ECC championship under her belt. We want to try and win the ECC and hopefully if we get back to the NCAA Tournament we'll just be more experienced where we just won't be excited to be there, but go and compete hard and try to win a game and win a second game and try to get to the regional finals and see what happens."