Before this season, when Coach Angel Elderkin got Appalachian State’s conference schedule, she saw convenience at the end.
The Mountaineers women’s basketball team would finish the regular season on an Alabama swing. It meant they would only be one state over from New Orleans, the site of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
“This is great,” Elderkin said she remembered thinking. “We don’t have to travel. I was fired up.”
But that was before the Sun Belt announced a bracket change, putting the two opening-round games on the campuses of the higher seeds. It led to some bouncing around for the Mountaineers.
App State traveled to Alabama on Wednesday, playing Troy on Thursday and South Alabama on Saturday. Then a pilgrimage back to Boone brought the Mountaineers back early Sunday. By Monday, they were travelling by plane again, this time to New Orleans.
“I don’t know how many miles that is,” Elderkin said. “But that’s what we did and I’m trying not to really talk about that to the team.”
Added Bayley Plummer, a junior post player and an all-Sun Belt third teamer, when asked if she could feel the effects of travel after bouncing around like that: “Just a lot of flying and bus time. I don’t know, if you don’t take care of your body, it will catch up to you in a few days”
It’s worth it to some extent for App State. The Mountaineers (16-13) clinched the fifth seed in the Sun Belt tournament. Because of this, Appalachian secured a bye, setting up a game against Coastal Carolina at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Entering last weekend, App State held the fifth spot. But with so many teams within striking distance of each other in the conference standings, the Mountaineers needed some extra push in the win column to keep it. They lost 95-66 to Troy before turning around to beat South Alabama, 59-50.
That was a welcome sight for Elderkin, who worried about the effect of a near 30-point loss could have in March.
“It’s something that the Sun Belt season has kind of prepared us for all season,” Elderkin said. “We’ve been on the road, we’ve maybe dropped a Thursday game, and we’ve had a good bounce back
“So I thought on Saturday as a coach, you’re trying not to put pressure or talk about it but at the end of the day, you’ve got to be transparent.That’s why we play.”
App State’s game against Coastal Carolina is the third matchup of the teams. They split the regular season matchups — App State won, 67-53, in Boone on Jan. 19 and lost a month later in Conway, S.C., 74-66.
Coastal Carolina comes from a tricky path this season. The Chanticleers lost their first six conference games before pushing back for an 8-10 conference record. D.J. Williams, CCU’s leading scorer (18 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (6.9 rebounds per game), missed the last three games of the regular season. Then against Arkansas State on Monday, she returned to to help Coastal Carolina win, 63-49.
She provides another wrinkle for App State to deal with. But Plummer said after two seasons of struggling and building up to this, she thinks the Mountaineers have something to put.
“I feel like this year, we’re in a good position for sure, to go out there and pull some upsets,” Plummer said. “I think we’re just all really excited about the conference tournament this year.
“All just coming together and being able to play at the right time, and our chemistry just keeps getting better every game.”