Nova Southeastern coach LeAnn Freeland gathered her players following an 83-80 loss to Rollins College in the second round of the Sunshine State Conference Tournament.
Sensing their disappointment — the Sharks had beaten the Tars twice in the regular season — Freeland told them to stay loose and have fun while playing. She asked seniors Meixandra Porter and Tailor Jones to set the tone with their calm presence.
“Coach asked us to focus more and turn the page,” sophomore guard Danielle Robinson said. “We went back and watched it and learned from our mistakes and realized this isn’t the end for us. We just came together and made a change.”
The loss didn’t necessarily serve as a wake-up call, but rather a reminder of a second chance in the postseason.
Sixteen days later, Freeland has watched the team cherish every moment. Whereas the players might have taken a possession off earlier in the season, they now thrive with a sense of urgency, understanding it’s “win or go home.”
Nova (23-8) won by an average of 22 points in its three regional games en route to Tuesday night’s matchup against fifth-ranked Western Washington (28-3) in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in San Antonio.
“I feel like right now we have played our best basketball over the last week,” Freeland said. “There’s something to say about peaking at the right time, and I am hopeful we’re peaking at the right time.”
In a 78-56 victory over Delta State in the South Region final on March 18, the Sharks started five guards. Two of those players — junior Amanda Burakoski and Jones — stand at 6-0.
Even when facing taller opponents, Nova likes to dictate the pace, relying on its defense to provide pressure up and down the court.
It’s part of Freeland’s philosophy, which she has developed over the years. Based on versatility, women who can defend any position will make it tough for teams to match up.
“We’re pretty much interchangeable,” said Porter, the team’s leading scoring at 17.1 points per game. “That can work to our advantage. It makes it fun for practice and just knowing that you have a scoring threat.”