WBB : Freshly ranked Syracuse focused despite added exposure
When Fantasia Goodwin heard the news on Monday afternoon, the first thing she did was cry. The Syracuse senior forward couldn’t hold back the tears when she heard her team had received its first ever national ranking, No. 24 in the AP poll.
But her emotions quickly changed to elation, and she started to spread the good news. First on her list was SU head coach Quentin Hillsman.
‘I’m like, ‘Coach, we’re ranked,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah man, we did it,” Goodwin said. ‘I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ Then I called everyone in my phone book, like 300 people.’
There haven’t been many tears of joy or good news to spread for the SU women’s basketball throughout the years – it has had one winning season in the last 17. But with Saturday’s win against Villanova, the Orange (15-3, 3-2 Big East) assured itself a winning season.
Hillsman emphasized the importance of keeping the team’s momentum going, which the Orange will try to do Saturday when St. John’s (10-8, 1-4) visits the Dome for a 2 p.m. tip.
‘We can’t go out there and be happy about where we are and just settle,’ Hillsman said. ‘We’ve got to continue to work hard as a team and to push and to win as many games as possible.’
Earning a guaranteed winning record makes them postseason eligible, but Hillsman said that is only the beginning. From there, Hillsman said the team still has to make the Big East tournament, and then the NCAA Tournament.
And while the polls brought good news for Syracuse, it brought better news for five of SU’s Big East foes. Six conference teams were ranked in the AP top 25, and seven were in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, the most teams to be ranked at one time in Big East history.
Hillsman said the overall strength of the conference means that even though Syracuse is ranked, opponents will not necessarily start circling their games against the Orange.
‘I think that our conference is so tough that you can’t look past it,’ Hillsman said. ‘You can’t not circle anybody because everybody’s good in our conference.’
Goodwin, though, had a different take.
‘I want teams to dread playing us,’ Goodwin said. ‘I just want them to be like ‘Oh we’re playing Syracuse, God!”
But Hillsman, the second-year head coach, repeatedly emphasized while the rankings were nice, the team had more work to do to achieve its goals. It had some extra time this week – SU didn’t have a midweek game for the first time since Christmas – to get back in the weight room and rehab some ailing players.
‘We were in the gym today, this morning,’ Hillsman said. ‘We didn’t have a parade because we understand there’s more work to do.’
But short of a parade, the Orange has garnered its fair share of attention in its run to the polls. In its last home game, against Connecticut, it set the home attendance record, attracting 4,221 fans. During interview sessions, players now routinely face a barrage of interviewers, along with a half dozen TV cameras.
And, for the first time this season, the game will be picked up by Time Warner cable and shown in the Syracuse area. Hillsman said the exposure helps get the Syracuse name out to the public, and can help out with recruiting.
But the extra attention has not diverted any focus as of yet, and the team said it will not.
‘We just have to keep focus on and keep our mind on what we’re here for,’ Chandrea Jones, Syracuse’s leading scorer, said. ‘We’re here to get a national championship. One game’s not going to do it so we just have to stay focused.’
As the Orange move toward its first game as a part of the top 25, Goodwin knows exactly what her team needs to do.
‘Just stay humble, and remember what we had to do to get here, and not take all this to the head,’ Goodwin said. ‘Because as it came, it could easily go away. We could easily be unranked again.’
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