The Syracuse Orange women learned their postseason fate on Monday evening in the football meeting room at Manley Field House. With friends and family, along with the usual crowd of coaches and athletic department staff, the players watched as the ESPN crew announced that they would be paired up against Army in a four-versus-thirteen seed matchup this Friday at 2:30 pm E.T. Not only that, but they would also be hosting the first two rounds in the Carrier Dome.
After the selection was announced, a short press conference was held with head coach Quentin Hillsman and two of his star players, redshirt-senior guard Brittney Sykes and senior guard Brianna Butler. Members of the media got to speak with them and asked several questions about what the day meant for the history of the program.
Sykes was at the microphone first. When asked what the feeling was like when the team knew they were going to be hosting two games in the Dome, she had this to say:
"You almost don't want to get caught up in it too much and make sure you handle your business at home, win those first two games, and then after you win those first two, go on to the next two."
She reiterated several times how excited she and her teammates were about the seeding. It was no surprise, as the film of their reaction is proof positive.
Butler was up next and did not shy away from questions looking into the future of a potential rematch with the team that ousted them in the second round last year:
"There is a lot of excitement (being in the same region as South Carolina). It wasn't the outcome we wanted (last year). We really want to go out there and play them and get that opportunity to avenge ourselves."
She also shared Sykes' enthusiasm about getting the chance to play at home again:
"It's a great feeling. As Brittany was saying, they always come and pick us last. We're just sitting there going through each bracket, just waiting for our name to get called. It's a really great feeling going in as a four-seed and having the opportunity to host at home."
Coach Q wrapped things up, answering questions ranging from what his team brings to the table to what he knows about Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the site of the region's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. He said that being able to host was exactly what they were hoping for and that he believes that, despite the men's team playing right before them, there will be a good turnout of fans in the Dome on Friday.
On the possibility of changing the Orange's game-plan because it's the postseason:
"I don't think we can change now. We don't know any other way. Whoever comes to play us is gonna get some pressure, and we're gonna play fast. That's what we do. We're very comfortable with our style of play. It's a tough style to prepare for. That's our calling card, and we're going to do it all through the Tournament."
Q has always been open about his high expectations for this team. When asked about what he knows about Sioux Falls, he at first said that he looks forward to going there and learning about the area. He then went on to say exactly how far he predicts his team will go, this time around:
"I don't want to know about Sioux Falls. You know why? Because we're going to go all the way to the big one. There you go."
What did he mean when he said "the big one"? Indianapolis, Indiana, the site of the Final Four.
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Yesterday morning through early afternoon, the ladies were treated to the media cycle, with a couple of individual radio interviews on ESPN-Syracuse's "Bud & the Manchild" and "Orange Nation," as well as a segment on News Channel 9's (WSYR) "Bridge Street." The day began on News Channel 9 with Brianna Butler, junior guard Alexis Peterson, and Brittney Sykes talking to the anchors Sistina Giordano and Jim Teske about hosting in the Dome and their game prep.
Butler said why it was so important to be seeded where they were:
"We're just really excited. The opportunity to host is really huge for us. We really don't lose at home, so we're trying to come and play-"
Sistina: "Ooh, there ya go!" [laughter]
Breanna: "It's a comfort zone, so we're trying to come out and play as a team in fromt of our crowd."
They then were asked how they and their teammates were getting ready to face Army, and what goes into game preparation. Sykes was very straightforward with the answer:
"Usually, we go in and watch a lot of film on the team, and Coach Reed does an amazing job with scouting the team, we'll know their tendencies. And, we go back home and study the personnel and the players and what's their weaknesses, what's their strenghths, and then we go over what they're good at, what we can attack them on, and how to play defense, things of that nature. Then, we just bring that onto the floor and just go through their presses, their offense, and what we can do against them to win the game."
After the segment came back from a commercial break, Peterson showed off her offseason double-basketball dribbling routine. It was similar to Stephen Curry's pregame dribbling but only slightly less complex. Teske gave it a whirl, and held his own, but it was hard to compete with Alexis. The final question the three ladies were asked was if they had any superstitions:
Brittney: "I know for me, especially on game day, I have to start bottom to top. It's weird, but I have to get my ankles taped before I do anything, then socks, pads, shorts, jersey, headband and hair."
Alexis: "I have to have some Polar Ice gum. [Chuckling] And, I have to pray before- I always pray during the Star-Spangled Banner."
Breanna: "I fold my socks down for every game. [Chuckling] I've always played like that. Instead of all the way up."
The second part of the cycle involved Peterson and Sykes having individual interviews with the radio personalities on ESPN Syracuse Radio (ESPN1260 The Score).
Peterson discussed on "Bud & the Manchild," in addition to her reaction to the seeding, what her recruiting process and subsequent transition from high school to college was like:
"My recruiting process was a bit different. I'm very impulsive, and I was very eager to get my school decided, and Q came along and we developed a bond. He was very good with my family, very open, very honest with me. We sort of connected. I came up here on an official visit and committed on my way out, and it was great. I knew I would be walking into a program that was kind of in a rebuilding process. They had just gotten to the NCAA Tournament for the first time (under Coach Q), so we knew that they were taking strides in the right direction and that they had just gotten some good recruits in the 2012 class, so I knew that I was accompanying some great players and that we could really do something special in our years here."
She went on to say that the reason she chose to come to Syracuse was because it was the perfect distance. It was away from home where she could live somewhere else but still be close enough to her family. Peterson then talked about how she and her freshman teammates adjusted to college ball:
"It was a big adjustment (from high school to college ball). I'm not gonna lie, my first year here, we had what we call 'bootcamp' training, it was an experience for me just all this conditioning and running we had to do day-in and day-out, waking up at 6:00 am for practices and conditioning. It was a lot, but I think by about October I got adjusted to it and it became the norm for me and what I expected up to this point. I don't know anything differently now that this is my third year."
Bud Poliquin and co-host Jim Lerch asked about the team's game preparation, to which Alexis said that the team would be getting a scouting report packet later in the day from Q. They then wanted to know where the team would have to end up to be satisfied with their season:
"I feel like the satisfaction doesn't stop until we get past those first two rounds. We made a stride to get to the NCAA Tournament, then we made another winning one game. I'm ready to win 2, 3, 4 games in thes Tournament and also to get to the National Championship game and compete at that level with the best teams in the country. That's our goal, to make it to that last round."
They wrapped things up by asking if Peterson knew anything about Sioux Falls, if they are able to advance past this weekend. She laughed and said the only thing she could tell them was how to spell it.
"Orange Nation" co-hosts Steve Infanti, Salvatore Maneen, and Paul Andrew Esden Jr. were on the mic with Sykes during their program. They asked her about how she felt about the seeding as well as how she has dealt with her two ACL injuries, but most importantly how she has been able to come back and contribute to her team's success:
"Sitting out that first time, I got to watch my team, and actually being off the court and on the sideline it really helped me to realize how much of an amazing team we had. I knew playing with them, we had a great team but, sitting back and watching players step-up, we have such a deep bench, and watching Corns (Cornelia Fondren) step-up, and Lex (Peterson) step-up, and Butler holding her position, the Day twins (Briana and Bria) holding it together in that post area, it was just great to watch them, and I looked at myself and I asked myself, 'What can I do personally to help my team when I come back?" For me, that was just to really hone in on my rehab and just to make sure that when I come back I stay healthy. And, going through the second one, being able to watch again, it was just an inner feeling to know that I had to do something and that I stay on top of my game because those girls deserve for me to give them my best and in order for me to give my best and be where we are today, I had to make sure I was focused on my rehab."
She then talked about how difficult it is for teams to be able to practice for and adjust to the style of full-court press defense that Syracuse plays. Sykes said that the goal is to make the opposition uncomfortable and questioning their own strategy for as much of the game as they can. That's when teams are most susceptible to turning the ball over and making mistakes.
The final question pertained to convincing those who are thinking about coming to the game, but are not quite completely convinced. Sykes had this to say:
"We're planning to make history by playing in the Dome and we take our fans very seriously, so we want them to come out and enjoy history with us because when we get those wins in the Dome, they'll be able to tell their kids and grandkids and tell them, 'I was there when the women hosted the NCAA Tournament and it made history to beat two teams to move on to the Sweet 16,' so I want the fans to come out -- we all want the fans to come out -- to enjoy history with us and be a part of it because once you're a part of it, no one can take that away from you."
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Now it's up to you, Orange Nation. Will you come out and support the ladies in the Dome this Friday at 2:30 pm E.T.?
Bonus: Here's what junior center Briana Day and senior forward Cornelia Fondren had to say to Cuse TV about promoting the team at Destiny USA: