Stony Brook Seawolves guard Asiah Dingle high fives with forward...

Stony Brook Seawolves guard Asiah Dingle high fives with forward India Pagan during the second half of an America East semifinal women's basketball game against the UMass Lowell River Hawks at Federal Credit Arena on Sunday, March 7, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The bright lights are waiting, Arizona is on the horizon, and the Stony Brook women’s basketball team is ready to take its place on center stage.

The Seawolves, who qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, will take on the third-seeded Wildcats as a 14th seed Monday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2 in what they hope will be a continuation of the legacy they’ve spent two years building. They’ll have a date with Aari McDonald, the Pac-12 player of the year and co-defensive player of the year, and a stacked Mercado region ahead of them.

And while all that may seem daunting, coach Caroline McCombs thinks they will be prepared.

Annie Warren, who scored 31 points in the America East Tournament final, said when she came to Stony Brook, she told her mom they could make the tournament one day. Hailey Zeise, who was a senior when the season was canceled because of COVID-19 last year, made sacrifices to play as a graduate student. And Asiah Dingle, who lost her father this season, said she knows he’d be thrilled that his daughter made it to this stage.

"You never know how players are going to respond under those really bright lights, but we talk about trusting our training and doing our work in the dark and preparing for these opportunities, and so that’s what we have to do," said McCombs, who went to the tournament once before as a player and twice as an assistant coach.

"We have to trust our training. We work so hard together every single day. They pour their heart and souls into each other and I’m just really proud of that continued progress. We do a lot of things off the court that really aid in our growth, and so I’m just hopeful and believe that those things will come out."

The Seawolves (15-5) will continue to rely on the defense that made them champions. They led the America East in points allowed with an average of 50.7 per game. The Wildcats had the second-best defense in the Pac-12 (56.1 points allowed).

The Seawolves have some heavy homework ahead of them, McCombs said, because neither she nor her players are familiar with Arizona. They’ve got a week for that. For now, they’ll soak it all in.

"I’ve always dreamed of doing it," Warren said. "It’s just a lot of emotions. I’m very excited and happy to do it with this team."

Zeise, meanwhile, said they’ve faced challenges before and come out stronger. "I wasn’t ready to be done so, going through quarantine and seeing the way things played out, I just had a feeling and I knew that I had unfinished business here," she said. "I wanted to try and achieve my dream, which was to make the NCAA Tournament."