Last week, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) began announcing its post-season honors, with Rutgers University head coach Coquese Washington receiving the Carol Eckman Integrity in Coaching Award. Presented annually, the award honors a coach who shows spirit, integrity, and character through sportsmanship.

“This game has given me a lot and I’ve always tried to give back to the game and give back to players,” said Washington. “To receive an award for that is really humbling and special.”

March Madness is underway and the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament began yesterday. The overall top seed in the tournament is defending champion University of South Carolina. Although USC is undefeated this season, it is still anyone’s game as the tournament unfolds, and Washington said there may be some surprises.

“I don’t know if the top eight seeds will make the Elite Eight,” Washington said. “I’m rooting for good games because that makes our game more compelling and continues to grow the interest.”

As it was last year, the tournament will be a showcase for female coaches of color. Niele Ivey, head coach at Notre Dame and the first Black female head coach to lead a team to a regular season ACC title, was named ACC Coach of the Year.  

“It speaks to what happens when people have opportunities,” said Washington. “When you look at the women who are having success, the women of color, that wouldn’t happen if they didn’t have the opportunities.”

South Carolina’s first-round match is against Norfolk State University, one of two HBCU institutions heading to the Big Dance. The Spartans punched their ticket by defeating Howard in the MEAC Tournament. 

There are three New Yorkers and two players from New Jersey on the Norfolk State roster. Graduate student guard Deja Francis from Queens is the team’s leader in assists and number three in scoring. She came in as a transfer last year and is thrilled to play a role on the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002, bringing NYC creativity and passion for the game.

“It’s a blessing being able to come here and actually play my game how I want it to be played,” said Francis, who finished her bachelor’s in mass communications last year and is currently studying for her master’s in media management. “This year, we got it done. It is really good to play for an HBCU and come make history here.”

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