Summit Climb: Western Illinois attempts to defend conference cro - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Summit Climb: Western Illinois attempts to defend conference crown

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Western Illinois heads to Sioux Falls for Sunday's Summit League tournament in search of consecutive championships. Western Illinois heads to Sioux Falls for Sunday's Summit League tournament in search of consecutive championships.

MACOMB, IL. (WGEM) -- It's hard not to look back on what happened a year ago.

"We have that experience and the run we made last year we kind of have that in our back pocket," Western Illinois senior guard Emily Clemens.

"We can reflect on what it takes mentally and physically to make it through those three days."

The Western Illinois women's basketball team made a memorable run to its first Summit League Tournament championship in 12 years last March.

Starting Sunday, the Leathernecks begin what they hope is a title defense in Sioux Falls. 

"Last year going up there and playing really well, and winning two close games, gave our team some confidence," Gravina said.

"I feel more excited and less anxious that I ever have going to the tournament."

Third seed Western opens with sixth seed Omaha.

Gravina's group swept the regular season series winning both meetings by an average of 37 points.

"We're preparing for the team they're capable of being, not the team they necessarily were in our first two contests," Gravina said.

"We've got to have a real high level of activity defensively and maybe not give them as many open shots. Offensively, you're going to have to play through some nerves and tightness, especially in the first half."

Unlike last season when the Leathernecks won three times in four days, and got a day off before the semifinals, this year's conference tournament format requires the champ to win three games in as many days.

"I think we just started to kind of focus on one game at a time. It's the survive and advance mentality," junior guard Taylor Higginbotham said.

"We've worked on Omaha and get focused for them first, and beat them, and then just kind of take it one day at a time. We don't want to look too far forward."

According to Clemens, "Going into the conference tournament anything can happen. Every team is 0-0 and I know it's a cliche saying, but it's true this time of the year. We have just as good of a chance as anyone. We just need to play well."

Western Illinois and Omaha square off in the Summit League tournament quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The winner will face the South Dakota State/North Dakota State winner on Monday.

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