Ben Ward, Ozarks News Brief
SPRINGFIELD – After a loss to Southern Illinois on September 26 the Bears found themselves nine and seven on the year, having lost their last four matches including their first two conference games.
Head coach Melissa Stokes stood in front of her team after that match with tough news.
“I wanted the team at that point to know that we had not earned an at-large bid even though I felt we had done what we needed in the non-conference,” said coach Stokes.
Coach Stokes then laid out a road map on what it would take to earn that bid.
“I pointed out the rest of the opportunities that we would have and I knew that was going to be only against Wichita State one more time, Southern Illinois one more time. We had to beat Northern Iowa, we probably had to sweep Northern Iowa, but the next time around we couldn’t afford to lose to SIU and we couldn’t afford to lose to Wichita State,” said coach Stokes
The team responded by finishing the regular season on a sixteen match winning streak and capturing the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title.
The Bears were flying high heading into the MVC tournament and made it to the championship match when more adversity struck. The Bears lost to the Shockers of Wichita State and after the match coach Stokes knew she had work to do.
“Our players hurt. They felt it. I said let it hurt for twenty-four hours, I think that’s a good thing, but now we got to turn the page and be excited about what we are going to do next,” said coach Stokes.
Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, Lily Johnson, believes that her and her teammates have turned that page.
“There’s definitely a fire burning in each and every one of us especially the older girls, the upper class men,” said Johnson.
And with that fire burning the team can see their early season goal coming into focus.
“We set a goal to make it to the sweet sixteen and I know that sounds lofty, but i think it’s something that we can definitely achieve,” said Johnson.