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Women’s spring preview: Ohio Valley Conference

After sitting out the postseason – arguably the greatest part of any season – for the past three years, Southern Illinois Edwardsville finally is eligible to compete this spring, as a Division I team.

The Cougars made the jump from Division II beginning in the fall of 2008. The previous fall, SIUE finished fifth at the Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship. The last time the Cougars won a conference title was at the 2004 GLVC Championship.

It’s been a long transition for head coach Jennifer Jakel and her squad, but the Cougars already are showing progress at the highest level of the game. SIUE won its first Division I tournament in October of 2011, the Northern Illinois Huskie Classic. The Cougars finished 11 shots ahead of runner-up Loyola-Chicago.

“The experience of being in a position to win and actually closing out the win is an invaluable one,” Jakel said. “The win really built up the team’s confidence and showed them that they can compete at the D-I level.”

It also was a good reminder to keep an eye on the prize, which ultimately is a spot in an NCAA regional, courtesy of the league’s automatic qualifier. One way Jakel kept her players focused without a chance to earn that AQ during the past three seasons was by setting benchmarks. She wants her players to maintain the mindset that they can win every time they tee up it.

In preparation for this spring’s OVC Championship, Jakel tried to build more events into SIUE’s competition schedule that pitted the Cougars against conference competition. That included the F&M Bank Austin Peay State Intercollegiate in October. SIUE finished eighth among 10 teams, six of which (not including SIUE) are in the OVC.

“It was a good experience because we got to see firsthand how we measured up against the other teams in the conference,” Jakel said.

Still, regular-season starts can’t produce the hunger the Cougars should have by postseason. It’s been a long time coming.

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Where it stands now

Top of the class: Morehead State

Best player in the fall: Maya Parsons, Jacksonville State

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Past champions

2008: Jacksonville State

2009: Murray State

2010: Murray State

2011: Morehead State

2012: Jacksonville State

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Conference capsules

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