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Seawolves Punch Their First Ticket to the Big Dance

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Stony Brook Women’s Basketball Wins America East Title

The wait was worth it.

On March 12, the Stony Brook University women’s basketball team qualified for the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time in school history by defeating Maine in the America East Conference final, 64-60.

Exactly one year prior, the two teams were set to tip off for that same conference championship at Island Federal Credit Union Arena, with the top-seeded Seawolves hosting the No. 2 Black Bears.

But the game — and later that day, the entire NCAA Division I women’s tournament — was canceled due to the COVOD-19 pandemic. A remarkable season that had seen 28 victories and a best-in-the-nation 22-game winning streak was suddenly over.

So when the Seawolves, this time ranked second, closed out their first-ever America East conference championship by beating top-seeded Maine in Orono, the long wait only served to amplify their feelings of joy, excitement and pride.

“Last year, we had such a magical season and didn’t get to cap it off,” said coach Caroline McCombs after game. “Win or lose that ballgame, we just didn’t have an opportunity to lay it all out there. To remember that for the past year, and this year having the opportunity to play in the championship game again, we’ve been hungry for this for a long time. I’m just really proud of the growth of this team. I absolutely will remember this forever.”

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President Maurie McInnis takes a selfie with the women’s basketball team before the selection show Monday night.

“It feels great,” said sophomore guard Anastasia Warren, who posted a career-high 31 points in the win, along with nine rebounds. “I don’t know how to feel. I’m so excited. I’m just hyped. I can’t wait to go.”

Warren was named the conference tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and was joined by teammates Asiah Dingle and Hailey Zeise on the conference All-Championship team.

The positive energy continued to flow at Monday night’s selection show event on the court at IFCU Arena, where the Seawolves learned that they had earned the 14th seed in the Mercado Region and would face No. 3 seed Arizona (16-5) at 2 pm Monday, March 22 in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be televised live on ESPN2. San Antonio will host the entire women’s tournament.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis addressed the team before the selection show and expressed what the entire Stony Brook community is feeling.

“The whole Seawolves nation will be watching you in San Antonio,” McInnis told the team. “We’re all so proud of you. What a great accomplishment for Stony Brook, for women’s basketball. What role models you are. We’re all so excited.”

Stony Brook finished the regular season in second place in America East, going 11-3 in conference play and 15-5 overall. The Seawolves earned the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs and defeated UMass-Lowell in the semifinals, 75-55.

The road to Texas — which began with a Tuesday morning sendoff at IFCU Arena — was a thrilling and emotional one for the Seawolves.

Multiple student-athletes returned to Stony Brook for an extra year as graduate students after being deprived of reaching the NCAA tournament a year ago.

“It just makes it that much more special,” McCombs said. “Any time you can have some delayed gratification, that’s what we’ve waited for. I’m so proud of our perseverance throughout this season. We never knew what was going to happen, but our players were able to stick together.”

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The SBU women’s basketball team boarding the bus to the airport for the trip to San Antonio.

Dingle overcame personal tragedy to lead the Seawolves in scoring this season with 11.7 points per game, while also dishing out a team-best 3.6 assists per game. She transferred this season from Kent State to be closer to her ailing father, Maurice. Sadly, he passed away the day of her first game with Stony Brook, and she learned immediately after the game’s completion.

Senior forward India Pagan will continue to make history later this year at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, when she will represent her native Puerto Rico in its first appearance at the Summer Games.

Getting invited to the big dance has become a common occurrence for McCombs, who will make it to the Division I tournament with her fourth school as a player or coach. She finished her college playing career at Youngstown State as the sixth-leading scorer in program history and led the Penguins to the tournament twice. She helped Valparaiso to consecutive tournaments as an assistant coach from 2002-2004, and made the tourney as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh three times in five years.

In her seventh season leading the Seawolves, McCombs is the winningest coach in the the team’s Division I era with a record of 130-75, and is the program’s second-winningest coach overall.

This season marked the fourth time the Seawolves had reached the America East championship game, making it in 2014 and 2002. Stony Brook made three NCAA Division III tournament appearances in the 1980s.

Follow the Seawolves’ journey at the women’s basketball websiteon the team’s Twitter page, or on Stony Brook Athletics’ Instagram.

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