It would be hard to imagine a better start to one’s NCAA Division I career.
Cassie Oursler has started 21 games, she’s earned a ring for helping her team win a conference title and today she’ll be playing in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The Grand Island High School graduate, along with her coach Sal Buscaglia, will represent Western New York when No. 16 seed Robert Morris University plays undefeated and No. 1 seed Notre Dame (32-0) at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio.
It will be Robert Morris’ third appearance in the NCAAs since 2007.
“It’s crazy. If you ask anybody they’re going to know who Notre Dame is, but if you ask them who is Robert Morris, not everyone will know,” Oursler said after Friday’s light practice. “We just want to make a name for ourselves and for people to know who we are. Yes, they are incredibly skilled, we’re just going to give it everything we got.”
The Colonials (21-11) earned the Northeast Conference’s automatic bid by capturing the regular season and tournament crowns.
Notre Dame will be making its 19th straight tournament appearance. They received the Atlantic Coast Conference’s automatic berth. “An important job for me is to clog up the paint. They have two guards who like to drive so I’m going to have to help out in there,” said Oursler. “(In college) the speed of the game is much quicker. I’m not just taller than everyone. There are other girls who are 6-3, so I have to compete with body strength, not just my height.”
Oursler is currently playing her best ball of the year, having averaged a double-double during the final week of the regular season. Buscaglia said the 6-foot-3 Oursler has been downright intimidating against opponents driving in the lane.
“She just swats the ball out of the way,” said Buscaglia. “She’s been a very good sign. She listens very attentively and she’s so coachable. We knew she had a lot of potential and figured we’d have to take baby steps, but she’s a made a big impact for us and we think it’s going to continue.”
Oursler was the Buffalo News Player of the Year in 2012-13. She ended the regular season for the Colonials ranked No. 3 in the Conference in blocked shots (1.59) with 46. Wearing her familiar No. 31 jersey from high school, she averages 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Buscaglia, who lives in Hamburg during the summer, is in his 11th season with the Colonials. Among his college coaching stops were Hilbert starting in 1977 and the UB women from 1990 to 1998. Going up against Notre Dame promises to be a daunting task. “We watched a ton of video, and as a fan they’re really fun to watch. They’d be more fun to watch if we weren’t playing them,” he said. “They are just far superior, but on the other hand, what an experience.”