For a change, getting to the NCAA Tournament isn't a cause for celebration for Quentin Hillsman or his Syracuse women's basketball team.
The Orange earned a No. 8 seed in the Greensboro region and returns to the NCAA Tournament for the third season in a row, a new program record. Syracuse will face the ninth-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers on Friday night in Columbia, South Carolina in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
"It’s big for the program," junior guard Brianna Butler said on returning to the NCAA Tournament. "It’s big for the school and big for our team."
But when that matchup was announced, the response was overwhelmingly subdued at the watch party inside the Carmelo K. Anthony Center. The players and coaches didn't react for a few seconds until Briana Day called out, "That's us", which prompted a calm round of applause.
The goal for Hillsman's program isn't just to reach the tournament, anymore. It's to win games there, or even advance past the first weekend to the Sweet Sixteen.
"We know what it’s like to be in the NCAA Tournament now," Hillsman said. "I think that moving forward, the experience of knowing what to expect and knowing how you travel and what you need to do to prepare gives us a lot of confidence."
Hillsman and some of his players said they didn't check the projections for where Syracuse would fall in the tournament. That wasn't the case, however, for Cornelia Fondren. The junior guard saw ESPN's polls drop Syracuse from a projected six seed to a seven after the team's early exit in the ACC Tournament.
"I was thinking about it all day," Fondren said. "It was on my mind all day. I’m in class and I got to focus, but I wonder what our seed is. You got to focus in class, but it’s always in the back of your head."
Fondren's class became the first one to reach three NCAA Tournaments while at Syracuse. The Orange lost to Creighton in the Round of 64 in 2013 and then beat the Chattanooga Mocs in its first round matchup last season.
The victory over Chattanooga was Syracuse's first ever NCAA Tournament win after starting 0-5.
Day said the team's goal this season is to take it a step further and set a new first, reaching the Sweet Sixteen.
"We just got to let people know who we are and put our names on the map and know who Syracuse is," Day said. "We have accomplished so much over the past couple of seasons."
Getting to the Sweet Sixteen would likely mean getting past the top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks in the second round. The Orange almost upset the Gamecocks early in the season, but ultimately lost in a 67-63 final.
Hillsman opted against making any bold guarantees like he did last season, when he predicted that the Orange would defeat the Mocs. He did, however, dream of something even bigger.
"We are very excited," Hillsman said. "We understand that going to the tournament three years in a row is big. It’s what we want to do every year: get to the tournament and have a chance to win the national championship."