FARMVILLE, Va. -- The Longwood Lancers are having the best basketball season in school history.
The Lancers lead the Big South Conference and are poised to grab the program's first NCAA Tournament bid.
"We are definitely making a name for ourselves and putting ourselves on the map which is exciting, and even more reason and motivation to keep doing what we're doing," Longwood forward Zac Watson said.
While they are not IN the tournament yet, a groundbreaking buzz hovers around this year's team.
"This is something that hasn't been done at Longwood before," Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich said. "That's really exciting to be a part of. We don't want to shy away from it, we want to celebrate it."
Founded as the Farmville Female Seminary Association, Longwood has been around for nearly 200 years. It officially became a university 20 years ago and a Division I program in 2007.
"Not too many people were even looking at Longwood even if it was in Virginia in the same state," Longwood guard Deshaun Wade said. "Nobody was even looking to see what Longwood was doing or even cared what Longwood was doing. It's a really good feeling."
"We had confidence in the work we were putting in. we didn't necessarily know how good we could be," Watson said. "We knew we could be good but at the beginning of the season it was about being the best that we can be and it's turned out to be pretty damn good."
Coach Aldrich knows exactly what an NCAA appearance can do for a program and a school. He was an assistant at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) when the Retrievers beat the Virginia Cavaliers in 2018. It was the first and only time a 16-seeded team defeated a 1-seeded team in the NCAA tournament.
With that win, he saw how fast things can change. And it's not just about the money it would generate, even though just making it to the tournament would mean over $1.5 million for Longwood and the Big South Conference over the next 6 years.
"UMBC was transformational. Overnight, UMBC became a household name," Aldrich said. "All those t-shirts I had given my friends, now all of a sudden, they were wearing them."
"When you develop that national profile it has this catalytic effect across all of campus, the whole university whether it's on admissions or philanthropy or just the energy and excitement that alumni have and the recognition all across the country," Longwood President Taylor Reveley said.
While the Lancers are atop the standings, only one team from the Big South will make the NCAA Tournament. The Lancers will have to win three games in three days at the conference tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite all the success they've had thus far, the margin for error remains incredibly small.
"I've thought about those three games in three days plenty of times," Watson said. "Like I said, you can't look too far ahead or you'll miss what's in front of you."
"You look at it and go, 'we could really mess this up.' You look at it and be like if we make one mistake here one mistake there, this isn't going to be a reality anymore," Wade said.
For now, they can see their names on Bracketology projections and tickets for home games at Willett Hall have never been more in demand.
It's the kind of ride that players don't frequently get at this level of the game. Everyone is trying to balance the excitement of the moment with the preparation for what's to come.
"Teams are treating us like we're a target. In practice and whenever we're around each other, we hold each other accountable all the time. Make sure everybody's doing the right thing,"
"If there's a novel that you really like that has a dedicated, devoted fan base but then it gets made into a movie. The jump in attention and acclaim that happens at that point, that's what could happen here," Reveley said.
"They've worked so hard, and they commit so much and give so much to be the best that they can be. We demand a lot from them both on the court and in the classroom. We're a high accountability program. These guys answer the bell day in and day out," Aldrich said. "It's humbling that they would give such great effort and purpose behind their pursuit of being a great basketball team."
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