When Scott Rueck took over the Oregon State women’s basketball program in late June of 2010, he was met by a large contingency of fans and supporters in the Loge of Reser Stadium.
The Beavers were coming off an 11-20 season that saw them go 2-16 in the Pac-10 Conference.
Players had left and Rueck would have to somehow cobble together a roster after holding open tryouts.
He never could have imagined another similar crowd a mere 45 months later.
But there he was sitting with his team waiting for what he once thought might not be possible — a berth in the NCAA tournament.
After half the field was announced, Rueck and the Beavers were finally able to celebrate the moment they had dreamed of.
The Beavers are going dancing.
Oregon State received a No. 9 seed and will take on No. 8 seed Middle Tennessee at 5 p.m. Sunday in Seattle.
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The winner will face the winner of the game between No. 1 seed South Carolina and Cal State Northridge, on Tuesday.
“Very tough,” Rueck said of the matchups. “I know Middle Tennessee is a tough team. I’ve followed that program, admired that program. They’ve had an awesome year.
“If we win one were facing a 1 seed. A daunting task but a great challenge at the same time.”
But that didn’t matter on Monday as the players and coaching staff celebrated — with a large contingent of fans and supporters in the Loge — the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since the 1995-96 season.
“Really excited, you just pray to see your name,” Rueck said. “I know nothing was promised even though we had a good feeling that we deserved it. Once you see your name there’s a sense of relief and excitement.
“Dreams are becoming reality and it’s a very special day for us.”
The players were obviously excited, and relieved, as well.
“Earlier today I was feeling pretty good,” said the lone senior on the team, Alyssa Martin.
“You start to get a little bit nervous but then Oregon State flashed up and it was just relief and excitement.”
Added freshman point guard Sydney Wiese: “I jumped up and down and started dancing. It’s incredible to finally hear our name, know where we’re going to play and who we’re going to be facing. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Martin and junior Ali Gibson are the only players with postseason experience as the Beavers made the Women’s National Basketball Invitation two years ago and reached the quarterfinals.
But after going 23-10 and reaching the title game of the Pac-12 tournament this season, anything less than an NCAA tournament berth would have been a disappointment.
“This is a million times sweeter,” Martin said. “It doesn’t even compare. I mean, we were excited for the NIT but I don’t even think we had a clue of what we were capable of then.
“It would have sucked to be in the NIT this year.”
The Beavers were just 12-9 at one point this season but reeled off 11 straight wins.
While many couldn’t have dreamed an NCAA tournament berth would be a reality this season, the players began to see the possibilities.
“I don’t think anyone really expected us at the beginning of the season to get here, but we knew, we kept working in practice every day, and I knew in open gym,” said sophomore guard Jamie Weisner. “I remember texting coach after one open gym and was like, we’re going to be good this year.
“And then halfway through the season, I remember telling Ali I had a vision of this exact thing happening. To see that vision come true, it’s just, I don’t know, a blessing.”
It’s also a blessing in ways that the Beavers are staying close to home in Seattle.
The players expect to see plenty of fans — like they did at the Pac-12 tournament and at games throughout the year — wearing the Orange and Black this weekend.
“I feel like anywhere we are they are there,” Gibson said. “I remember we went to Arizona State and Arizona, there were just people there all the time supporting us.
“(And) especially at the Pac-12 tournament, we saw how great our fan support was. We had more fans than even the home (team) had. So it was awesome.”
While there was plenty of excitement on Monday, the player hope this becomes the norm.
But for now the focus is on Sunday.
“Hopefully the next three years will be the same feeling but right now we have a lot of work to do still and we’re going to enjoy it while we’re here,” Wiese said.
Steve Gress is the sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.