Women’s Basketball Hosts USA South for the First Time Ever

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Junior guard Amari Price (right) during Piedmont’s game against Mary Baldwin on Feb. 16. PHOTO / KARL L. MOORE

The Piedmont women’s basketball team has won the last two USA South Tournaments, automatically qualifying them for the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Lady Lions are in position to head to their third-straight national tournament this weekend when, for the first time ever, Piedmont will host the conference tournament in Cave Arena.

Piedmont joined the USA South in 2012, and will host Huntingdon this Saturday at 1 p.m., while Berea and Averett will play in the other semifinal immediately following at 3 p.m. The winners of the two semifinal games will play in the championship on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Cave Arena with a ticket to the big dance on the line.

Even though the women’s basketball team has won the conference tournament the last two years, Jim Peeples, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, thinks this tournament is different.

“It’s different because they have had the last two years to go on the road and do it in front of someone else’s home fans,” Peeples said. “Having the opportunity to play it here in our gym, knowing that this makes it easier for their parents and the rest of their family to be here, makes it a little more special for them.”

Along with the opportunity for the Lady Lions to play in front of their friends and family, hosting the USA South Tournament will also provide the chance to showcase the entire Piedmont athletic department.

“It gives us as an athletic department an opportunity to show off the quality of what Danielle [Percival, Director of Athletic Communications] and her staff do, and what Matt [McKinney, Head Athletic Trainer] and his staff does. Having the conference tournament is an opportunity for us to showcase what we do well every single time we host an event here. It’s special for all of us.”

This is an incredible opportunity, but all realities start with a dream. Dr. Ray Cleere, President of Piedmont College from 1995-2011, had the idea to make Piedmont a more attractive school to student-athletes who wanted to gain a degree, but also compete on a nationwide platform.

“I think it solidifies the vision Dr. Cleere had 20 years ago,” Peeples said. “He decided to take the athletic program here at Piedmont and move it from the NAIA to the NCAA. He told me in my interview that moving to Division III gave us an opportunity to compete on a national stage. He felt that was really critical for us to become the kind of institution that he hoped we could be, because it would allow us to recruit higher quality student-athletes.

“[It would make us able to get] kids who were really gifted, not only athletically, but also academically. I think that vision has really played out. You see it, especially with the success that our women’s programs have had, winning the [USA South] President’s Cup four of the last five years, and with the number of our teams that are advancing into the NCAA Tournament.”

The Lady Lions hope to take full advantage of playing on their home court this weekend, and head to a third-straight NCAA Division III Tournament. Piedmont is looking to send its second team to an NCAA Tournament in the 2018-19 year. The Lady Lions’ soccer team won the USA South Tournament in the fall and punched their ticket to the big dance, and this weekend the Piedmont women’s basketball team looks to do the same.

“Playing in an NCAA Tournament of any kind, is a memory for a student-athlete that is hard to beat,” Peeples said. “It will be something that the student-athletes on that team will remember forever. It’s pretty special to have the opportunity to do that.”