BILLINGS -- As the pairings flashed across the screen, there was a collective agreement among the gathered players.
“We earned it,” declared the group.
They certainly did.
The Rocky Mountain College women’s basketball team will be one of four teams from the Frontier Conference playing in the NAIA Division I National Championships next week in Billings.
The Battlin’ Bears are joined by league champion and automatic qualifier Carroll College (24-7), along with at-large qualifiers Montana Western (24-8) and Providence (19-11).
The 32-team tournament is March 14-20 at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark for a second year in a row. As the host team, the Battlin’ Bears were already assured a berth.
The pairings announcement took less than five minutes.
“I thought it might be a little longer,” said senior guard Hailee Farstveet, breaking into a smile.
In a more festive Hall of Fame Room at the Fortin Center, the players and coaches found out that Rocky (23-8) will play Science and Arts of Oklahoma (28-5) in the first round on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
There were a few more smiles among the players from a season ago.
“We knew last year going in who we were going to play,” Farstveet said. “This year, we were a lot more excited to see who we were going to play.
“It’s exciting. We really want to win the national championship.”
A year ago, a 13-18 Rocky team already knew it was going to play No. 1-ranked Freed-Hardeman in the first round. Rocky lost that game, 62-52.
“Oh, it will help a ton,” said Farstveet of playing in Rimrock Auto Arena last March. “Just being in that atmosphere, shooting on those hoops, we know what to expect.”
Rocky finished third in the Frontier Conference regular season and advanced to the tournament title game before losing to Carroll 46-42 on Tuesday night.
“Our goal was to win the Frontier Conference and obviously that didn’t happen,” said Battlin’ Bears head coach Wes Keller, who was battling a cold. “But we knew if we put ourselves in position to win it (Frontier title) it would get us into the national tournament with a quality record.”
Rocky climbed to as high as No. 12 in the national polls this season and was No. 18 in the most recent.
“I felt we had all the pieces since the beginning of the year,” Keller added.
Rocky is the No. 5 seed in the Liston Bracket, while the Drovers are No. 4. Freed-Hardeman is the No. 1 seed. The Battlin’ Bears and Lions could have a rematch in Friday’s second round.
Science and Arts, a school of 1,100 students in Chickasha, Okla., qualified by winning the Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season title. The Drovers lost to defending national champion Oklahoma City in the conference tournament finals.
OCU will be chasing its 10th national title. The Stars begin their championship defense against Providence on Thursday at 2:15 p.m.
Science and Arts is making its third appearance at the NAIA National Tournament and first since 2008. The Drovers feature three players scoring in double figures and five averaging nine or more.
“I don’t know much about them,” said Keller, who planned to return to his office to learn more. “There is a lot of confidence in this group. If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can make some noise in this tournament.”
NOTES: Montana Western will open against Dillard (La.) (23-5) on Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. … Carroll plays William Penn of Iowa (23-8) on Thursday at 8 p.m. … Of the 32 teams, 23 played in Billings last year … There are no undefeated teams, with LSU Shreveport (31-1) having just one loss.