INDIANAPOLIS – The IUPUI Lady Jaguars were on top of the world.

On Tuesday, March 10, they defeated Green Bay 51-37 in the Horizon League championship game, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

Roughly 48 hours later, their dreams of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament were shattered when the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus.

Zionsville grad Rachel McLimore was a key member of the Lady Jaguars team, averaging more than 10 points a game for the 23-8 squad.

She said while they understood the reasoning, it was a heartbreaking time.

“It was really difficult (to get that news),” McLimore said. “I actually first saw it on social media, but we were all texting back-and-forth all day because you could kind of see it coming. But still you had that thought that they wouldn’t do it to March Madness. When they did it was devastating because we really felt like we had something special coming and we could make a run in the tournament. Now we just have to use it as motivation for next year.”

IUPUI will only graduate one player off this year’s roster.

McLimore said she and her teammates are already doing what they can to start their early prep for next season, now with some extra motivation.

“We have talked about it a lot,” McLimore said. “It’s pretty rare to be returning as many players as we are. Obviously we are losing Holly Hoopingarner, which is a huge loss because she provided so much to our team, but we have a majority of the group back. We want to make it next year for Holly since she didn’t get a chance to play in the tournament, and that will be extra motivation.”

It would have been a dream end to a fantastic season for McLimore and the Jaguars.

The 23 wins were the second most in IUPUI history since they moved to Division I basketball and after starting the season 8-6, they won 15 of their final 17 games.

“It was an amazing season,” McLimore said. “Our team really grew throughout the year. It was super sad that we couldn’t actually play in the NCAA Tournament, but looking back, knowing we made history – that’s something that they can’t take away from us.”

It was McLimore’s first year at IUPUI after sitting out last year following a transfer from DePaul.

She earned third-team all-Horizon League honors in averaging 10.9 points and 3.5 rebounds a contest.

After averaging 8.5 points in the first half of the season, McLimore averaged 13.1 in the final 16 games.

She said that while she enjoyed getting to know her teammates better and learn IUPUI’s system in her year off, it took a little while to get back up to game speed.

“It was definitely weird not playing games for an entire year,” McLimore said. “I was still working out, but it isn’t the same. I felt like at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t in game shape, but by the end of the year it was a lot easier. My coaches and teammates made it a lot easier too. Even when I felt like I didn’t perform as well, they were there to pick me up and help me grow a player.”

While she is happy with the way everything went this season, McLimore said there are definite things she wants to work on in her game.

She said the focus this off-season is to be more of an all-around player.

“I want to be a more complete player, getting more rebounds and assists next year,” McLimore said. “I take a lot of pride in defense, and I just want to make sure I am there for my teammates so they can count on me to lock up the person I’m guarding. Offensively, I want to work more on the mid-range game. I feel like if I can develop that it will help me a lot.”

All in all it’s been a great start at IUPUI, with two seasons to go.

While it can be tough in some situations to transfer into a new school, McLimore said the transition the last two years has been flawless and it reminds her a lot of her senior season at Zionsville, when she helped the Eagles win the conference and sectional titles.

“I am really glad I made the switch, I love it at IUPUI,” McLimore said. “It was nice that it was close to home, but the connections I already had with a lot of the players helped. It felt like home. It has been an amazing two years. It kind of reminds me of the year I had at Zionsville, where everyone is great friends, no drama and great coaches. After high school, I never knew if I would get to experience that again, so it has been really cool to experience that again.”

She said that she still talks with many of her former Zionsville teammates and trains in the off-season with Maddie Nolan.

McLimore said the support from the Zionsville community has been great, and she tries to give back whenever she can.

“Coach Maguire came to a couple of our games this year and I try to support that team when I can,” McLimore said. “I got to work to work the youth camp last summer, and that was really cool to be able to give back to that community. I love that part of it and want to be a role model to younger players and hopefully inspire them to really work hard and play in college in some day. I hope I get to continue that as my college career continues.”

Will Willems is the Sports Editor of the Zionsville Times Sentinel and Lebanon Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @Will_Willems.

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