Women’s basketball team opens season against Maryland

Published 5:16 pm Thursday, August 19, 2021

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For a Longwood women’s basketball program coming off a breakthrough 2020-21 season, the follow-up in 2021-22 presents more opportunities to continue a history-making run under fourth-year head coach Rebecca Tillett.

The Lancers will face plenty of postseason experience and conference title contenders in a road-heavy schedule that sends them to four different states and pits them against four teams that made last year’s NCAA Tournament field. Three of those opponents won their conference tournament in 2021-22, while 10 of the 11 finished the year with winning records in conference play.

Longwood will play teams from nine different conferences over the 11-game slate, with teams coming from the America East, Atlantic-10 (A-10), Big 10, Big 12, Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), Northeast Conference (NEC), Patriot League and Southland Conference. In total, the 11 opponents that make up the trial-by-fire combined to go 155-96 last season (.618 winning percentage) while going 111-52 (.681) in conference play. 

“We are looking forward to a strong non-conference schedule as we continue to elevate our program,” Tillett said. “We have talked as a team about how the jump from third in the conference to the top of the league might be the hardest thing we have had to do together yet. Playing Maryland and Iowa State gives our team experience against power fives in special arenas. The level of success our opponents achieved last year will expose us to various styles of play and prepare us for the Big South Conference schedule.”

The tough schedule has become a staple of Tillett’s non-conference plans in her time at Longwood, and the team has responded by putting together-back-to-back historic seasons featuring multiple program firsts. In 2020-21, her squad posted the program’s best finish in the Big South, a school record for Big South wins and highest Big South winning percentage while also receiving an invitation to the Women’s Basketball Invitational. That came on the heels of a 2019-20 performance that earned the Lancers the right to host the program’s first Big South Championship tournament home game while also tying the then-record for Big South wins.

Longwood will not ease into the 2021-22 season either, with a season-opening trip to Maryland (Nov. 9) to take on a Terrapin squad that finished in the top 10 in the final NCAA NET Rankings (No. 4), AP poll (No. 7) and Coaches’ Poll (No. 9) and has also won three straight Big 10 tournament titles.

Following the trip to College Park, the Lancers return home for a two-game homestand. In the home opener, Longwood hosts America East tournament champion Stony Brook (Nov. 12), with the Seawolves coming off their first trip to the NCAA tournament. The Lancers then host a Duquesne (Nov. 17) team that earned 10 straight postseason berths from 2009-18. 

Longwood heads back on the road for a six-game swing that spans two time zones and more than 2,700 miles. The squad warms up with a trip to Northeast Conference power Saint Francis (PA) on Nov. 20, a rematch of a 2018 meeting in Farmville. Then the Lancers head west to Texas – home state of standout senior point guard Tra’Dayja Smith – to close out the month of November. While there, Longwood will play at a pair of Southland foes, beginning with a trip to Lamar (Nov. 28) in Beaumont, Texas, followed by a trip to Sam Houston (Nov. 30).

“Taking Tra’Dayja home to play in front of her family and friends will be special for our team, considering how far from home she came to jumpstart our program,” Tillett said. “We are hoping Madisonville makes it feel like a home game for us.”

The team then heads to the Midwest to Iowa for back-to-back road tests over Dec. 3-5. The first of those pits the Lancers against perennial MVC power Drake (Dec. 3) before heading to Iowa State (Dec. 5) for their second power five game of the season. Longwood closes out the road trip with a swing through Philadelphia where they will play reigning CAA tournament champion Drexel (Dec. 11).

Longwood closes out the non-conference portion of its schedule with its second two-game homestand, beginning with a matchup against Richmond (Dec. 15). The Lancers take on American (Dec. 18) for their non-conference finale.

Those non-conference battles precede a Big South Conference slate that will be announced later this fall. All Longwood women’s basketball home games and all Big South matchups will air live on ESPN+.

Longwood’s battle-tested squad returns all five starters, 92% of their scoring and 89% of the total from last season’s history-making squad.

Guard Kyla McMakin, a two-time All-Big South first-team guard and the Big South Freshman of the Year in 2020, forward Akila Smith, the Big South Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Big South first-team selection, and Tra’Dayja Smith, an All-Big South honorable mention honoree, headline that deep and talented returning group. In addition, Tillett and her staff have added in six newcomers to the fold as the team heads into the fall following a summer of growth together as a family.