“The team was getting a little bummed, really wanting to host. Then all of a sudden, it was, ‘It’s tied up!’ Then Milwaukee pulled it out. And as soon as they won, we were going crazy,” Matters said.
“We were all in a big huddle and jumping up and down, and mall security said, ‘Uh, you guys have to get out of here.’”
The Raiders, who have an eight-game winning streak, capped off their improbable turnaround this season with an outright title after never having previously finished higher than third in the league.
They barely squeaked into the conference tourney last year as the sixth seed, qualifying for the first time in 11 years.
At 24-4 overall, they’re on pace to set a program record for winning percentage in the Division-I era (since 1987). They have the third-most victories in a season, surpassed only by a 28-10 record in 1989 and 26-14 mark in 1988.
“When I first took the job, I was like, ‘Six teams get in this tournament, and we’re going to breathe, eat and sleep that sixth spot. And when we get to six, then we’re going to get to five,’” Matters said. “I really thought we were going to chip away at this one year at a time. I never expected we’d make the jump we made.
“But the team was so motivated by that (tourney appearance) and what we were able to do over a short period of time. We trained really hard and worked on our culture and were able to skip some of those steps.”
The Raiders can make their first NCAA tourney appearance with two more wins. They’re 11-0 in McLin Gym this year and have won 16 straight home matches overall.
They’ll play at 3 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals against the lowest remaining seed after third-seeded Green Bay faces sixth-seeded Oakland and No. 4 Northern Kentucky meets No. 5 UIC in the quarterfinals Friday at Wright State. Second-seeded Milwaukee plays in the other semifinal at 6 p.m. Saturday.
While grateful to not have to travel, Matters knows being the host team doesn’t guarantee anything.
“We’ve had some tough matches in McLin. Even though we haven’t been beaten, it hasn’t been easy,” she said. “But with our friends and family and administrators behind us, we’ve been fearless in that place.”