HATTIESBURG, MS - "Wow, that was an unbelievable run to watch the stands pile up every game, to set an attendance record for women was very special to be a part of," said Southern Miss senior guard Brittanny Dinkins when remembering the Lady Eagles run to the Elite 8 of the 2015 Women's NIT.
"You can cherish the memories," said Southern Miss head coach Joye Lee-McNelis. "You can't always rely on the memories but you can cherish the memories and build from that as we get into conference play so that we can shoot to be in that championship game."
Five current Lady Eagles including Dinkins remember the 2014-15 season in which Southern Miss made a program-best run to the Elite 8 of the WNIT.
But as the USM begins Conference-USA play on Friday at Louisiana Tech, they are constantly reminded by coach Lee-McNelis that the 2016 goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
"Even when we lost to Mississippi State, coach [Lee-McNelis] was very upset," Dinkins said. "At the time, we couldn't understand. We're like, 'Hey coach, you're upset, they're blowing teams out and we lost by 22.' But she was like, 'I'm not coaching y'all for now. I'm coaching y'all for March. I'm coaching y'all for a championship.'"
"You coach for the future, you play for the future," Lee-McNelis said. "You've got to play against the game, you have to play in the segments, you have to be ready to roll. The Lady Eagles are really going to be challenged early in the conference play and you just hope that the games we've had to play on the road will better prepare us for conference play but will also prepare us for March."
Southern Miss has been to the Conference-USA Championship two out of the last three years but has lost on both occasions. Dinkins realizes it takes a special team to get over the hump.
"With this team we have our own uniqueness about us," Dinkins said. "I think for every team I've been on it's been something very different about us. I do think that with this team we do have championship qualities."