WILLIAMSTOWN -- Their bags and books are packed, and today, the Williams College women's basketball team is off to play in its first NCAA Division III Final Four.

"It still really hasn't hit me that we made the Final Four yet," Williams senior forward Danny Rainer said before practice Monday afternoon. "Maybe it will [this] morning when we get on our flight to go to Michigan. Right now, it feels so surreal."

At Hope College in Holland, Mich., the Ephs will join up with their national semifinal opponent DePauw, along with the other two Final Four teams, Amherst and Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The Williams-DePauw game is the 7:30 p.m. nightcap on Friday. The winners play Saturday at 7 p.m., while the consolation game will be played at 4.

For Williams coach Pat Manning, her cell phone has gotten a lot of work the past couple of days. In addition to making the travel arrangements, her former players have been filling up the message box. Manning has heard from members of a Williams team that was one win from a Final Four trip of its own.

"A lot of the 1999 team has talked to me, emailed me and different alums have been in contact," said Manning. "Liz [Tilley] Creighton is an assistant director of admissions [at Williams] and she said she was on the phone with three of her [1999] teammates and how excited they are. They all want to come to Michigan, but they all have little babies at this point. They all can't make the trip."

The players will be doing course work and taking midterms at their hotel in the time leading up to the games Friday and Saturday.

"At Williams, you're a student-athlete and student comes first," said Rainer. "These are great opportunities for the program and for basketball, but you have to remember your academics.

"It's great to see how all of the professors make it possible for you to go on the road and still take your exams."

That doesn't, however, mean it's going to be all basketball, all the time.

"It's a little tough. Some people will have to be doing work there, taking exams there," said forward Claire Baecher. "Once game day gets here, we'll just be focused on that and ready to go."

Coach Kris Huffman's Tigers enter this weekend as the nation's No. 1 Division III women's basketball team and the only team still playing that has yet to experience defeat.

DePauw (32-0) beat LaRoche College and Maryville in the first two rounds and advanced to the national semifinals with a Sweet 16 win over Washington (Mo.) University and an Elite Eight victory over Christopher Newport.

This isn't the first time Williams has played an undefeated team late in the season. The Ephs knocked Amherst from the ranks of the perfect in February.

"We were able to end Amherst's undefeated season, and to have that chance again against the No. 1 team in the country is really exciting," said Baecher. "It's great to have that opportunity in the Final Four."

To reach Howard Herman:
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