Hannah Varel is the perfect hire to continue Transylvania’s remarkable success

Of the challenges a new head coach can face in taking the reins of a program, one of the toughest, undoubtedly, is succeeding a legend. And Juli Fulks was most certainly a legend in Lexington, Kentucky.

In 10 years at Transylvania, she took the Pioneers to a place of unprecedented success, after doing the same in 10 seasons on the West Coast at Lewis & Clark. She went 400-143 in 20 seasons at the D-III level and 91-2 over her final three years at Transy. That, of course, included the perfect 33-0 season in 2022-23, one that culminated with the program’s first national title.

But that chapter has closed in her coaching career, as another prepares to be written. This morning in Huntington, West Virginia, Fulks was introduced at a press conference as the new head coach at Division I Marshall University, with much excitement from the administration and fan base. She’s taking on a new challenge now, with a program that has significant goals coming off its NCAA Tournament appearance this past March.

“Our job is to take these young women and help them grow, not only as student-athletes, which matters, but helps them grow as people, as leaders, as future professionals,” Fulks said at Tuesday’s press conference. “My job is to make sure they feel seen every single day. That we know what they care about. What matters to them not only on the court, but off [the court].”

“And our other job is to chase championships. That piece matters. The only way you win championships is by doing all the work that it takes. You can’t earn those without the time. And you learn lessons about yourself that don’t come any other way.”

At the same time in Lexington, Hannah Varel is in her first week as Transylvania’s new head coach, aiming to both maintain and raise the standard that Fulks established inside the Clive M. Beck Center.

Varel’s appointment to the helm of the powerhouse program came yesterday, just three days after Fulks was announced as Marshall’s head coach. And in many ways, it was an unsurprising hire, probably because it was the perfect—and most logical—one all along.

The associate head coach this past season, Varel coached under Fulks since 2020. She was the 2024 WBCA Assistant Coach of the Year, and last year, was named a WBCA Thirty under 30 honoree.

It seemed that with Varel stepping into the associate head coach role this past season, and gaining continued experience within the program, this was a move that would eventually happen. Whether it was anticipated to be this soon is unclear. But one thing is certain. To have someone who learned directly from Fulks’ leadership and who played an instrumental role in the formation of the national title team is invaluable to the sustaining of the success at Transy. From the standards within the program, to the recruiting aspect, to the ability to gameplan and win so consistently on the national stage, Varel has been part of it all over the last four years. Not to mention she knows the HCAC well, having spent all six of her years as a college coach in the league.

“I am delighted to have Coach Hannah Varel as our new head coach. In her 4 seasons with us, she has proven to be a key contributor to the success of our team.” said Vice President of Athletics, Dr. Holly Sheilley, in Monday’s press release. “Her commitment to the student-athletes, both on and off the court, made this an easy decision. I know she is more than ready to take over our program and I am excited for her.”

I truly don’t think Transylvania will miss a beat. While it will be a new voice leading the program, Varel’s is a familiar one for the returning players. The coaching styles may differ slightly, but the ability to lead and get the most out of the team (especially defensively) isn’t going to change. Recruiting-wise, Varel knows exactly how to recruit top talent to Lexington, which is in many cases one of the biggest adjustment for new head coaches. The familiarity and fact that she has been such an integral part of the winning tradition the last several years makes me excited for what is ahead for the Pioneers. Consistency is key in building a culture of success and Transylvania will have plenty of that with its coaching staff heading into the future.

“I want to thank President Lewis, Dr. Sheilley and the entire athletics administration for the tremendous opportunity to serve as the Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Transylvania University.” Varel said. “I’m extremely excited and humbled to continue mentoring our student-athletes and building championship culture. Our program will continue to epitomize success on the court, in the classroom, and throughout the Lexington community.”

As far as other coaching news, here are the D-III head coaching positions that are either currently open or programs that haven’t yet announced their next head coach. This does include institutions that currently have an interim head coach listed.

Carnegie Mellon

Trinity (CT)


Saint Mary’s (MN)


William Smith

Mount Holyoke


Russell Sage

St. Olaf



Wheaton (Mass.)

William Peace

On another note, NYU has secured a D1 transfer in Fairfield’s Kate Peek. She played two years at Fairfield as a 5’9 guard from Poughkeepsie, New York, and had opportunities to go elsewhere in Division I after entering the transfer portal before settling on the defending national champs. It is another big recruiting win for NYU head coach Meg Barber, who will lose at least two starters from this past year’s team in Morgan Morrison and Megan Bauman, both of whom were grad transfers. Peek saw her minutes cut at Fairfield this past season, but in her two years at the D-I level, she appeared in 32 games, making six starts as a freshman. Known as an elite long-range shooter coming out of high school, she shot 41.3 percent from beyond the arc in 2022-23. This will be a great addition to NYU’s backcourt heading into 2024-25, as the Violets seek to defend their national title. She can play the 2 or the 3 and should complement the returning core of that team very well.

As a side note, I’m always happy to highlight programs that have secured quality transfers/recruits, but that information is often very difficult to find! So if there is a recent commitment that should be noted, feel free to send an email to I’m also on X/Twitter at (@ZayasRiley).

I hope everyone has had a great start to the week! I’m working on my Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 30, so look for that soon. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk with Chatham head coach David Saur and Southern Virginia head coach Lynette Schroeder recently, so stay tuned for those Q&A feature stories. I had great conversations with both, and enjoyed learning more about their programs, especially as we start to look ahead to next season.

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The Scoop on D3 Women’s Hoops: Juli Fulks heads to Marshall as head coach

LEXINGTON, Kentucky—Lexington continues to be at the center of college basketball coaching news.

In what is surely going to be the most significant move in Division III women’s basketball this offseason, Transylvania head coach Juli Fulks is taking on a new challenge…at the Division I level. Within the last hour, Marshall University, out of the Division I Sun Belt Conference, announced Fulks will be the program’s ninth head coach, taking over for Kim Caldwell, who recently took the head coaching job at Tennessee.

It marks the end of a remarkable era under Fulks’ leadership for Transy women’s hoops, as she lifted the Pioneers to new heights in 10 years at the helm. That, of course, included a 33-0 campaign in 2022-23 that culminated with the program’s first-ever national title. This past year, Transy went 31-1, reaching the Final Four before falling to eventual national champ, NYU, in the national semifinals. Fulks was also named the 2024 WBCA Division III Coach of the Year, and led the Pioneers to a 6th consecutive HCAC Title, as the program continued its run of dominance.

Over the last three seasons, Transy posted a 91-2 record, and Fulks became the eighth coach in all division of women’s college basketball to reach the 400-win mark in 20 seasons or fewer.

Her final win at Transy came against UW-Whitewater in the Elite Eight in March, and marked the 400th victory of her collegiate coaching career. She leaves the Division III level, where she spent 18 years as a head coach, with a remarkable record of 400-143.

“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve Marshall University as the Head Women’s Basketball Coach,” Fulks said in a press release. “I would like to thank President Smith, Christian Spears and their entire leadership team for entrusting me and our future staff in leading the program. We will take immense pride in serving our athletes and mentoring their personal growth as students, leaders and future professionals. Go Herd!”

This is a groundbreaking move, as Marshall comes off an NCAA Tournament appearance, and is in position to compete at a high level in the Sun Belt once again in 2024-25. It also marks the second D-III-to-D-I move in women’s basketball in as many days, as Cornell hired Trinity College (CT) head coach Emily Garner yesterday.

“You know, no one has a more significant impact on the student-athlete experience than their head coach, so the people we bring to Marshall have to be amazing and have to honor that opportunity,” Marshall Director of Athletic Christian Spears said in the release. “Today, with the hiring of Juli Fulks, we are doing that once again. There is no doubt she is a winner – not many coaches have 400-plus wins – but what makes her so special is the culture she will create, the way she will engage with our student-athletes and the relationships she will form with them.

“Juli will bring enormous intellect and passion to our program, and I am simply thrilled for our current and future student-athletes who will have a remarkable experience while they represent The Herd under her leadership. She will also be a colleague to our other Head Coaches and she will be a leader in our community and on campus.”

According to the press release, “The Marshall University Board of Governors has scheduled a meeting for Friday afternoon. Pending the Board’s approval, a press conference to introduce Fulks will take place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 16.”

Fulks will certainly leave behind a legacy in Lexington, one that is highlighted by both on-court success as well as her dedication and commitment to empowering her student-athletes in their future goals. It was more than just basketball in her program, and the standard of excellence carried into the classroom just as much as it did the Clive M. Beck Center. She created a culture founded upon high character and striving for excellence, and it created well-rounded individuals who were truly accomplished student-athletes. I have no doubt the same will be true for her new program at Marshall.

»Read the full press release from Marshall


The Scoop on D3 Women’s Hoops: Trinity’s Emily Garner named head coach at Cornell

April 11, 2024

By Riley Zayas,

I wrote earlier today that we could see some D1 and D2 head coaching vacancies filled this offseason filled by current D3 head coaches…and that’s exactly what happened a couple hours later.

Cornell has hired Trinity College (CT) head coach Emily Garner to lead that program after eight stellar seasons with the Bantams. The 2022 NESCAC Coach of the Year, Garner is the eighth coach in Cornell women’s basketball history, and returns to the D-I level where she began her coaching career.

Garner accomplished plenty during her time at Trinity College (CT), posting a record of 124-55, as the Bantams went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in each of the last two seasons. Trinity’s big season came a year ago, when, led by the play of Reilly Campbell, Bria Fuller, and Emma Wax, they reached the Elite Eight, won a program-record 25 games, and the NESCAC regular season title. In each of the last three years, Trinity ranked amongst the nation’s Top 40 in scoring defense, which is a trademark of Garner’s style. The Bantams have been strong on the defensive end in recent years while also taking care of the basketball offensively, which led to solid offensive efficiency numbers.

“I am incredibly grateful and excited for the opportunity to serve as the Rebecca Quinn Morgan ’60 head women’s basketball coach at Cornell University,” Garner said in a press release. “A heartfelt thank you to Dr. Nicki Moore and the search committee for entrusting me with leading our student-athletes in their pursuit of excellence on the court, in the classroom, and in the community. Cornell is a special place, and I’m looking forward to building relationships and working to create a strong competitive tradition in the Ivy League.”

Garner has plenty of D-I experience to go along with her success at the D-III level. From 2012-2016, Garner was on the Army West Point staff as the recruiting coordinator and an assistant coach, and prior to that, began her coaching career at LIU-Brooklyn. She played collegiately at Lafayette, in the Patriot League, and I would imagine her background of playing and coaching at high-academic programs certainly helped in Cornell’s decision.

“In Emily, I believe we’ve found a coach who not only cares deeply about the student-athlete experience but has also demonstrated the ability to elevate the competitive success of teams at academically rigorous institutions,” Nicki Moore, Cornell’s athletic director, noted in the press release. “From her experiences at winning programs as an assistant coach to her playing experience at Lafayette, and especially having developed as a head coach for eight years, Emily has all the skills and owns the intangibles necessary to elevate Big Red basketball.”

Garner now steps into the Ivy League and is the second head coach in the league with previous experience as a NESCAC head coach. The other is Princeton’s Carla Berube, who led Tufts from 2002-2019, and is arguably one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in league history, with a 384-96 record, two national title game appearances, and four Final Four appearances.

» Cornell Press Release: Emily Garner Named Eighth Women’s Basketball Coach at Cornell University

As for the Trinity (CT) job, it is the biggest opening we’ve seen in D3 this offseason, in my opinion. While it is a program that graduates substantial talent from this season’s roster, Trinity’s standing in the NESCAC makes it an appealing opportunity. It’s a place that, with the right leadership on the coaching staff and success on the recruiting front, can continue to be a national contender in the years to come. The NESCAC is one of the top women’s basketball conferences in D-III for a reason and I imagine there will be significant interest in the position for that very reason. Definitely one to keep an eye on as the coaching carousel keeps spinning.

Saturday’s Elite Eight is set, Thoughts on Friday’s Sweet 16

By Riley Zayas, The Scoop on D3 Women’s Hoops

And then there were eight.

The Elite Eight is set after a thrilling slate of games last night, particularly in the earlier part of the evening, as Transylvania/UW-Stout, Wartburg/Bates, and Smith/UW-Oshkosh all played in games decided by five points or less. The intensity and emotion seen in those matchups was what the NCAA Tournament, on the second weekend especially, is all about. It’s one of the things that draws us to the NCAA Tournament, when you have those go-ahead scores with a couple seconds left, or a key defensive stand on the game’s final possession. And we saw all of that last night.

Harris the hero for Wartburg in 54-53 win over Bates
It’s been said that legends are made in March, and Macy Harris put her name into that category for Wartburg last night in the span of about three seconds. With the clock ticking down in Providence, Rhode Island, and Wartburg trailing Bates, 53-52, Harris held the ball on the right wing with her back to the defender. She then spun hard to her right, driving towards the rim before she euro-stepped in stride and finished with a layup at the buzzer. They eventually put a tenth of a second back on the clock, but it didn’t matter. The Wartburg bench ran onto the court in celebration, knowing that a trip to the Elite Eight had been sealed with Harris’ clutch drive to the lane. The moment doesn’t get any bigger than that, and it shouldn’t be surprising that it was a fifth-year senior who answered the call. What a score and what performance for Wartburg against a high-level Bates team. It is a Bates team that is young, and will certainly be back in contention for the Final Four next season.

Overall stats-wise, neither team shot above 33% at the free throw line (each had nine FT attempts), second-chance points were nonexistent, and the rebounding was just +3 in favor of Wartburg. There wasn’t much separation in any category. But Wartburg converted on two more 3-pointers than Bates, shooting 7-of-15 from beyond the arc. A 4-for-7 second quarter when it came to 3-point shooting was what kept Wartburg in the game, I thought, after the Knights fell behind, 17-8, through the first 10 minutes.

Washington & Lee’s Cinderella tournament run isn’t over yet!
On that same court in the second game at the RIC Sectional, Washington and Lee kept its Cinderella tournament run going with a thrilling 61-55 win over previously-undefeated Rhode Island College. Talk about legends made in March…Mary Schleusner is the definition of that. Sure, she’s been a star all year long, but the stat lines she has put up in the last three games against quality NCAA Tournament teams carry that much more weight, in my opinion. It’s one thing to put up a 34-point, 33-rebound performance in the regular season but to do it against a top seed (and a host school at that) is another. RIC’s defense was no match for what Schleusner can do with the ball in her hands, as she led the Generals’ charge to the Elite Eight. No matter what RIC tried to do, the Anchorwomen had no way to keep Schleusner from getting to the rim offensively, and defensively, she grabbed 30 defensive boards. Her 33 rebounds are a new NCAA Tournament record, breaking her own record set last weekend in the first round against Vassar. And by the way, it also marked W&L’s first-ever 30-point, 30-rebound performance in program history! Wow. Not to mention the fact that Schleusner also broke the W&L record for blocks in a season, becoming the first to ever surpass 100 (she has 102). And she’s still a sophomore!

That, along with shooting an efficient 14-of-20 from the field, five blocks, and three steals contributed to Schleusner’s stellar day in Providence. Along with that, RIC never seemed comfortable offensively and shot just 27.9 percent from the field and 13.0 percent from 3. That won’t win you many games, and W&L capitalized, particularly in a 16-9 third quarter that widened the Generals’ lead to 45-33. The Anchorwomen fought back, cutting the deficit to three late, but couldn’t overcome the third quarter run from W&L.

Smith is headed to the Elite Eight for the second time in program history
A little bit further to the north of Providence, in Brunswick, Maine, Smith found its way back into the Elite Eight in dramatic fashion, taking down UW-Oshkosh, 61-59. It is just the second Elite Eight appearance in Smith’s program history, and Jessie Ruffner had no small role in that success. She played all 40 minutes for the Pioneers, and scored 23 points, with the biggest score of them all coming on her go-ahead layup with seven seconds to play. That broke a 59-59 tie, and Oshkosh’s final shot—and it was a decent look from the left baseline—was off the mark. I talked yesterday about how Smith was one of the most efficient shooting teams in the country, and that certainly proved to be the case, even against a hard-nosed, well-coached defense like Oshkosh has. Smith was 43.4 percent from the field, and 5-of-10 from 3-point range.

Oshkosh connected on 11 3-pointers, but was 37.3 percent overall, which hurt a little bit. Credit to Kate Huml and Mallory Hoitink, who combined for 31 points off the bench for the Titans. Both were huge in keeping Oshkosh in it, and it was just one of those well-played games that went Smith’s way down the final stretch.

I thought both teams played at a high level, and if anything, this does give me more confidence in Smith’s standing as a Top 15-type team nationally. I struggled for much of this year on whether to put Smith high in my ballot or closer to the bottom, but what we’ve seen so far is a Smith team that is displaying efficient offense and has met every test in the postseason thus far.

Transylvania extends its win streak to 63, but it didn’t come easily as UW-Stout put up an exceptional fight
I was in Whitewater, Wisconsin for the big-time showdown between UW-Stout and Transylvania last night, and what a game that was! Transylvania entered as the nation’s #2 team and the defending national champs in the midst of a 62-game winning streak. And Stout had been one of the surprises of the tournament thus far for many looking at it from a national perspective. The Blue Devils got past a young, but very talented WashU team in the first round and a tough, gritty Puget Sound squad in the second round. They nearly knocked off Transy too, and led 29-23 at the half last night. The defensive intensity, even when shots weren’t falling, was huge for the Blue Devils, who did not surrender a single offensive rebound in the second quarter.

Ultimately, a four-minute stretch in the third quarter saw Dasia Thornton step up (she had 10 points in the third) and the Pioneers took back the lead. They outscored Stout, 23-14, in the 10-minute stretch coming out of halftime and while Transy never pulled away, they definitely grabbed the momentum in that stretch. Stout fought back, though, and was never out of it, cutting the deficit back to three with 19.2 seconds to play.

I’m not sure that anyone else this season has challenged Transylvania for a full 40 minutes in the way Stout did yesterday, and with Stout bringing back so much talent next season, this is the type of game that can really add to the foundation heading into next year. Stout exceeded its preseason expectations in my opinion, winning two NCAA Tournament games along with the WIAC Tournament title. Not to mention the fact that the Blue Devils opened league play with a 1-5 record before winning seven of the final eight.

I would say similar about Hope, who fell to UW-Whitewater, 72-61. The Flying Dutch battled back through the second half, and with such a young group, displaying that level of tenacity in the Sweet 16 on the road is notable. Hope was fairly inexperienced when the season tipped off, but that didn’t stop the Flying Dutch from going 26-4 with an MIAA regular season title and the program’s 14th Sweet 16 appearance. The increased experience and maturity was seen as the season progressed, and despite the tough loss, Hope can certainly build on this experience.

Transy and Whitewater meet tonight with a trip to the Final Four in Columbus on the line and that is, on the surface, a very intriguing matchup. Matchups between Dasia Thornton and Aleah Grundahl, and Kacie Carollo and Kennedi Stacy, will be key in determining the outcome. I fully expect to see a fast-pace with Transylvania’s defense going toe-to-toe with the potent offense of Whitewater. The Warhawks were in rhythm for much of last night’s win over Hope, but that doesn’t always translate when the opponent changes. The same goes for Transy, who was really pushed hard, especially offensively, against Stout. I look forward to being in the gym for that one, and expect it will be pretty close to a full capacity crowd. Transy traveled well, bringing more than most teams with 7-8 hour trips typically do. That will add to the atmosphere tonight, as Whitewater will certainly have their fans in attendance.

NYU, Bowdoin, Scranton, each punched their tickets to the Elite Eight
NYU and Bowdoin both rolled to sizable victories, further proof that both are indeed, top seeds. NYU took down a senior-laden Hardin-Simmons squad at home, 73-55, as Belle Pellecchia led the scoring with 17 points. And Bowdoin defeated Baldwin Wallace, 78-48, in front of a large home crowd, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2019. Bowdoin opened the game on a 26-8 run and never looked back.

Scranton took down a talented Johns Hopkins squad in a game that ended up being much closer than the final score. Scranton’s 65-53 victory saw Maddy Ryan score 20 points and I thought the Lady Royals free throw shooting played a pivotal role in allowing them to gain separation late. Scranton finished 14-of-16 at the line and took advantage of its opportunities there in the final minutes, securing its 16th Elite Eight appearance in program history.

This sets up four high-level matchups tonight….Whitewater/Transy, Wartburg/W&L, Smith/Bowdoin, and NYU/Scranton. Honestly, if you had to try to predict Elite Eight at the beginning of this season, there’s a good chance you would’ve had quite a few of these teams in there. W&L is the surprise, but even still, we knew the Generals would be good this season. Elite Eight good? Maybe not so much, which makes it fun to see what W&L has accomplished through this tournament run. And for the other teams here, they’ve lived up to the pressure and hype that comes with being nationally-ranked and in the Top 15 for much of the season. That’s hard to do.

I look forward to watching these contests unfold, as we’ll know by tonight who is headed to Columbus for next week’s Final Four! Best of luck to the eight teams competing tonight!


Storylines to watch heading into the Sweet 16

The second weekend of the 2024 NCAA Tournament has arrived! Tip-off is just hours away for these Sweet 16 games set to be played tonight in Brunswick (Maine), Providence (Rhode Island), New York City (New York), and Whitewater (Wisconsin). We’ve got 16 teams contending for one of four spots in Columbus next week, and the stakes are incredibly high, with no clear far-and-away favorites in these eight matchups. It is crazy to think the season has gone this fast, but nonetheless, here we are. I love the fact that we have so many teams from different parts of the country facing off tonight, and there is plenty to follow in each of these sectional pods. I figured I’d put together three storylines to keep an eye on in each sectional tonight, as we get closer to the first games of the day.

NYU Sectional

  • The Matchups

  • Scranton vs Johns Hopkins, 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Hardin-Simmons vs NYU, 7:00 p.m. ET

3 Key Storylines

First-year success at JHU: JHU is the only program in the Sweet 16 who is led by a first-year head coach at Rodney Rogan continues to impress in his first year at the helm of the Blue Jays. A top contender in the Centennial Conference all season long, JHU is 26-3, with its first season of 25 wins or more since 1996-97. This is a special team, and will give Scranton a real test in a battle of Region 5 powers.

For the first time in a long time: Hardin-Simmons is a relatively new face in the third round, as the Cowgirls are set to make their first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2006. This year marks just the second season since 2006 in which HSU has qualified for the NCAA Tournament, as the Cowgirls are led by a quartet of fifth-year seniors in Anna Fanelli, Paris Kiser, Parris Parmer, and Samantha Tatum.

NYU’s one-two punch in the post: The Violets are 27-0 for a reason and their post play has certainly been a significant contributor to that. The guard play, led by Belle Pellecchia and Megan Bauman, has been fantastic and has certainly contributed to the production in the paint that makes NYU such a tough opponent. The one-two punch of Natalie Bruns and Morgan Morrison continues to be impressive as the forwards are amongst the top three on the team in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, and blocks. Bruns is averaging 14.9 points and 7.3 boards, and 3.04 blocks, while Morrison averages 14.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, and is shooting 60.2 percent on the year. Bruns and Morrison complement each other when both are on the floor at the same time, and that is one of the reasons NYU has been so consistent offensively.

UW-Whitewater Sectional

The Matchups

  • UW-Stout vs Transylvania, 6:00 p.m. ET
  • Hope vs UW-Whitewater, 8:30 p.m. ET

3 Key Storylines

A national title game reunion: This sectional is unique in that three of the four teams who played in the national title games in 2022 and 2023 will be in action. Hope and UW-Whitewater find themselves in a rematch of the 2022 championship in Pittsburgh; a game Hope won, 71-58. And Transylvania enters as the defending national champion with a 29-0 record. The Pioneers took down Christopher Newport in Dallas last spring for the 2023 national title.

Stout on a surge: UW-Stout has authored one of the best in-season turnarounds in Division III women’s hoops in recent memory. The Blue Devils started WIAC play with a 1-5 record, before flipping the script and closing the league schedule with a 7-1 record. That carried into the WIAC Tournament, as Stout took down Whitewater and Oshkosh, both Sweet 16 teams, in consecutive order on the road, claiming the league’s AQ to the NCAA Tournament. And at Carroll last weekend, Stout got past WashU, 71-61, in a tight game, before rolling past Puget Sound in the second round, 61-40.

Transy in midst of making history: Transylvania carries a 62-game winning streak into the sectional, the eighth-longest in college hoops history and the third-longest in D-III women’s basketball history. While all four teams here have postseason experience, and more so Hope and Whitewater from a recent standpoint, Transy enters with the longest active streak of consecutive Sectional appearances, with three. UW-Whitewater is making its second-straight, and while Hope is in its 14th Sweet 16, the Flying Dutch fell to Wartburg in the second round of last year’s tournament. This marks the first time within this three-year span that Transy will be playing in the second weekend away from their home court in Lexington, Kentucky.

Bowdoin Sectional

The Matchups

  • UW-Oshkosh vs Smith, 5:00 p.m. ET
  • Baldwin Wallace vs Bowdoin, 7:30 p.m. ET

3 Key Storylines

First-time meetings: Neither Oshkosh and Smith nor Baldwin Wallace and Bowdoin have ever met previously, based on each team’s “opponent history” as listed on their websites. These unique matchups are partially made possible by the sectional including four different regions, with Regions 1 (Bowdoin), 2 (Smith), 7 (Baldwin Wallace), and 9 (UW-Oshkosh) represented. It is one of two sectionals with that distinction.

Home Sweet Home: The Polar Bears are set to make their 16th Sweet 16 appearance in program history, the most of any NESCAC program, on Friday, and will do it inside historic Morrell Gymnasium. Bowdoin has historically been very successful in postseason home games, having beaten Bates in the NESCAC title game two weeks ago to go along with a 27-2 record at home in NCAA Tournament duels.

The sharpshooting Pioneers: Smith continues to be one of the country’s most efficient offenses, which is certain to create an intriguing duel between the superb defense of Oshkosh and the shooting ability of Smith. The Pioneers rank No. 1 in the D3 in in field goal percentage as well as 3-point percentage and have three 1,000-point scorers leading the way; Ally Yamada, Sofia Rosa, and NEWMAC Player of the Year Jessie Ruffner.

Rhode Island College Sectional

The Matchups

  • Bates vs Wartburg, 5:30 p.m. ET
  • Washington & Lee vs Rhode Island College, 8:00 p.m. ET

3 Key Storylines

Battling beyond the arc: The Bates/Wartburg matchup features a strength for both teams that will go head-to-head in this neutral court duel. Bates has been one of the NESCAC’s top teams in 3-point defense this season, with opponents shooting just 25.3 percent against the Bobcats. Wartburg, on the other hand, is ranked in the Top 10 nationally in 3-pointers per game, with 8.7. Britney Young, Jaedon Murphy, and Sara Faber have all made at least 50 3-pointers this season for the Knights.

The pressure of playing with a lead doesn’t seem to faze W&L: Mary Schleusner has been the headliner throughout W&L’s tournament run, and really, for the majority of this season. And rightfully so. She continues to put up incredible double-doubles, like the 45-point, 29-rebound performance against Vassar in the first round on Friday. Slowing her down will undoubtedly be a major task for the RIC defense. But in the midst of all of that, something even I wasn’t aware of was the fact that the Generals have not trailed at any point over their last 75:36 of game action. That is huge considering their challenging first weekend draws of Vassar and Catholic. Being able to play well with a lead, especially in the second half, could come into play for W&L tonight against an RIC team that tends to be fairly productive over the final two quarters of games.

Back-to-back Final Fours for RIC?: Last season, the Anchorwomen seemingly came out of nowhere in making a run to the Final Four, surprising many along the way. This season, it’s been a different story, and RIC has lived up the hype. They are 29-0 this year, having broken the program record for consecutive wins, and that goes along with a 26-game home winning streak, evidence of just how tough it is to take down the Anchorwomen on their home court in recent seasons. RIC is in the midst of its third-straight 20-win season, but has never before won 30 games in a season, a feat that could be accomplished on Friday night. Of course, there is also a question as to whether RIC reaches an unprecedented second-straight Final Four. We could see that accomplished on Saturday night.

That’ll wrap up this gameday post! I’m headed to the UW-Whitewater sectional tonight and look forward to catching up with a few teams I’ve already seen this season, as well as UW-Whitewater, who I have watched plenty of, but haven’t yet seen play in-person. The stakes will be high in what is the only sectional being played in the Midwest. I’ll have a couple postgame columns from there along with notes on the rest of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games over the course of this weekend. So stay tuned! And best of luck to all of the teams tipping off tonight!