They call Taylor Buie “unshakeable,” but next week will surely put Nova Southeastern’s freshman point guard and her calm demeanor to the test.
That’s when the Sharks will travel to San Antonio to try to win three consecutive games and earn the first women’s basketball national title in school history. Before this year, the Sharks had never been past the second round of the Division II playoffs.
Nova’s first game is Tuesday against fifth-ranked Western Washington (28-3).
But even the prospect of playing a big game against a school located just 45 minutes from where she grew up is not enough to get Buie flustered.
“There’s no point in getting nervous,” said Buie, who grew up in the Tacoma, Wash., area. “If you get nervous, you lose.”
The Sharks (23-8) haven’t lost very often this season. Still, they are the only unranked team to make it to the Elite Eight, a group that includes No.1 Clayton State (31-0), No. 2 Ashland (33-1) and No. 4 Colorado Mesa (30-1). The other qualifiers are No. 7 Gannon (30-4), No. 10 Dowling (27-3) and No. 24 Augustana (26-6).
1 Clayton State for the title on Friday.
The Sharks have an experienced starting lineup with four players scoring in double figures: 5-6 senior Meixandra Porter (17.1), 5-8 sophomore Danielle Robinson (13.9), 6-0 junior Amanda Burakoski (12.5) and 6-0 senior Tailor Jones (10.1). Other than Robinson, the other three transferred to Nova from Division I schools.
The starting point guard is a pass-first player, 5-11 junior Jessica Russi, who averages just 4.9 points but a team-high 5.1 assists.
Her backup is Buie, who is just the opposite. She comes in firing and is averaging 8.0 points and 1.4 assists. In Nova’s quarterfinal win, Buie scored 16 points in 32 minutes.
“She’s a winner,” Nova coach LeAnn Freeland said of Buie, who averaged 25 points a game in high school. “She wants to be a college coach some day, and she understands the game very well. She’s also very calm, which is unusual for a freshman.”
Burakoski, who played Division I ball at St. John’s, said it sometimes looks like Buie is devoid of emotions.
“When I was a freshman,” Burakoski said, “ and I had a turnover, I’d be shaken up.,” Burakoski said. “I didn’t bounce back as quickly as Buie. She is unfazed. We don’t even see her as a freshman.”
Buie said she does get excited but adds that she has a great “poker face.”
That should come in handy next week as the stakes grow larger with each game.
Freeland, in just her second year at Nova, has extensive experience in the Division II national playoffs.
As a player, she and her Southern Indiana teammates lost in the 1997 national title game. The same thing happened when she served as an assistant on the 2007 Florida Gulf Coast team.
On Monday in Nova’s locker room, Freeland got showered with Gatorade — Porter did the honors — after Nova clinched a berth in the Elite Eight.
And if the Sharks win it all, they have even bigger plans for their coach.
“The last time was Gatorade blue, and she took it like a champ,” Burakoski said. “But the next time will be the Gatorade ice water.”