KENOSHA — The last several days have not been easy for UW-Parkside men’s basketball coach Luke Reigel, his staff and his players.
But all that trepidation after a first-round loss in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament last Wednesday night disappeared late Sunday night.
The Rangers are going dancing for the first time since 2017.
Parkside, which had entered the GLIAC Tournament as the top seed, but was upset by Michigan Tech, 73-68, received one of the at-large bids into the 64-team NCAA Division II Tournament, which begins this weekend in Indianapolis.
The Rangers (21-8 overall), seeded seventh in the eight-team Midwest Region, open play Saturday afternoon with a 2:30 p.m. tilt against second-seeded University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“I won’t lie, it was a long four or five days from the time we got beat in the quarterfinals to the announcement late (Sunday) night,” Reigel said in a telephone interview Monday morning. “We needed a few things to go our way in the conference tournaments around the region, and fortunately for us, they did.
“Honestly, there was never a doubt; I thought we deserved to be in. We played a strong non-conference schedule and won our league in the regular season. But when you put it in other people’s hands, you’re just not 100% sure you’re going to get in. I’m just really happy for our players and coaches.”
An NCAA Tournament berth, whether it’s by winning a conference title or through an at-large bid, certainly is nothing to be taken for granted, Reigel said.
Every single one is special.
“When we were on our streak of making five in a row, I think people started taking for granted that you just get to the NCAA Tournament every year,” he said. “It’s just not that easy, especially since our region went to three conferences, there’s three automatic bids gone right away. As an at-large team, everybody else in the region is fighting for five spots.
“You have to have a great season to get in, or you have to get really hot for a week. Fortunately for us, we had a great regular season, and now we get to keep playing.”
What’s ahead for the Parkside Rangers
Other first-round games pit top-seeded Indianapolis and eighth-seeded McKendree, fourth-seeded Hillsdale and fifth-seeded Northern Michigan, and third-seeded Ashland and sixth-seeded Ferris State.
Should Parkside win its opener, it will face either Ashland or Ferris State on Sunday afternoon. The Rangers own a 3-0 combined record against both teams this season. The regional championship is set for next Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m.
But first things first, and that’s the battle with Missouri-St. Louis, a team that defeated the Rangers, 83-61, earlier this season.
“Right after Christmas, we went down to their place, and they took it to us,” Reigel said. “They’re athletic and a veteran team that’s won a lot. They were in the ‘Sweet 16’ last year. They’ve won a ton of games the last three or four years. It’s a veteran group that knows how to win and has had success in the postseason.
“We’re going to have to come up with a different game plan than we had the first time. We’re just excited to be in, so whatever changes we make to get prepared will be fun work for all of us.”
The Midwest Region has plenty of familiarities, either from the Rangers’ past in the Great Lakes Valley Conference or with in-league teams that are joining Parkside in Indianapolis.
Reigel hasn’t begun to look too closely at the other teams – as Missouri-St. Louis certainly has all of his undivided attention – but that familiarity and the “fairly” short drive to Indianapolis could pay dividends this next week.
“Ashland and Ferris are two teams right off the bat that we have a lot of familiarity with,” he said. “Indianapolis, who is the host, is an old GLVC rival. They’re very good. I haven’t watched much film on them, just because our paths won’t cross unless we get to the regional finals. We know that they’ve had a great year.
“Indy is a great place to host (the regional tournament). It’s a great basketball city first of all, but they have a good facility, it will be a great venue to play in. Hopefully, we get a lot of fans to make the short trip down.”
Fans looking to make that trip can visit www.parksiderangers.com on Monday afternoon for more information.
Reigel, who was preparing for practice Monday morning, said he’s just excited for the new opportunity and challenge that awaits — especially after a disappointing early exit from the GLIAC Tournament last week.
Now it’s full steam ahead.
“It’s like we’ve approached every other game that we’ve gotten beat in,” Reigel said. “We learn from it, we get better and we move on. There’s no time to dwell on it. There’s 64 teams in the country left playing, and we’re one of them. We’re not going to hang our heads. We’re going to be pretty fired up to get to practice this afternoon and get to work.”
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