CLEVELAND — It's no secret the Cleveland State University women's basketball team is a force to be reckoned with. Making a push in the postseason, the Vikings are the talk of the town, and for good reason.
Before the year started, head coach Chris Kielsmeier knew they had something special.
"We knew as a coaching staff when we constructed this team and they showed up in the summer that they had a chance to be really special," Kielsmeier said. "Lots of teams have chances to be special and they never reach their full potential—this team has shown that it's reached a lot of their potential. Now we've got an opportunity to go let us see how far that full potential can be."
The year started with a brutal 87-54 loss to Iowa State. The defeat could have easily set a sour tone for the rest of the year, but instead, the Vikings took that loss and grew from it, winning their next 16 games straight.
"I kind of thought even before the season started that this was something that we were going to be able to accomplish. We have the team and the coaches to do it, so it was just about putting it in the works," said guard Destiny Leo.
The season of hard work has culminated in a 30-4 record, their recent Horizon League championship, and now, a bid to the NCAA Tournament where they're seeded No. 13. For many, it's a dream come true for the women on the team.
"I think as a player, this is something that you work towards for your entire career. So to be able to be a part of the small number that has achieved this is really cool," said forward Brittni Moore.
Beyond a spot in March Madness, however, the Vikings have been able to earn something else that they deserve with their performance this year—an undeniable respect and attention from across the city.
"The longer the season went, the bigger the crowds got, the more excitement there was and our players feed off of that. And then in turn, after the games, our players were able to return that favor by shaking hands and signing autographs, and putting smiles on other people's faces. And again, the game gives you such an opportunity to impact. And this team has done that, and that will forever be a part of their legacy."
Fans coming out to see the Vikings dominate and each game being left impressed with the game and the outcome has done something more than just give the team a boost on the court—it's setting a precedent for women's sports around the city.
"When I first got here, we didn't have quite as much support. But now that we've been winning and getting more media coverage, it's really cool to see Cleveland get behind us," Moore said.
During the interview session, which drew a line of other media outlets waiting their turn to talk to the women about all of their accomplishments this season, Moore, Leo and Kielsmeier noted how special it was to be able to showcase women's sports in Ohio.
"We have a platform to help effect change and impact others. And we have a platform to grow women's athletics and women's basketball in this area. And this group has done that. This this team, these players have embraced that role and been able to go out and get that done. And it's monumental stuff," Kielsmeier said. "I couldn't be more proud of our players for not only what they've done to our program, but what they've done to women's athletics in this area. It's really special and something that I'm glad a lot of people are talking about it because they should be."
That, for the women on this team, is something they're proud of themselves—and are shooting to make this coverage the standard for women's sports everywhere.
"I feel like that's a level of achievement to be at the point where you can't be denied. I think that's a huge thing for women is that there are ways to overlook us—but to be undeniable, you can't be overlooked. Now that's really cool. That's really special to me," Moore said.
The Vikings head into March Madness slated to face No. 4 seeded Villanova on the road Saturday at 5 p.m.
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