WACO, Texas — The Lady Bears are getting ready for their 19th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Graduate student Caitlin Bickle is the only remaining player on this Baylor roster who was a member of the 2019 National Championship squad.
25 News had the opportunity to speak with Bickle ahead of her final tournament run in a Baylor uniform, as their quest for a national title is set to begin Saturday afternoon.
It’s been five years since the 2019 Lady Bears cut down the nets and brought a National Championship back to Waco — Caitlin Bickle was a freshman at the time.
“It was just fun, like it was all so surreal,” Bickle said.
“I don’t know, it was just so crazy because you knew you were good, but as a freshman you never really know.”
While winning the tournament her freshman year might’ve come as a surprise, Baylor University is notoriously known for their successful basketball programs.
“I think the expectations were always there in a sense because it’s Baylor,” Bickle said.
“I feel like everyone says, ‘Oh it’s Baylor, you’re supposed to be this way, you’re supposed to be that good’ but I think even throughout the past five years, it’s not given.”
Just like the team has evolved over the last five years — so has Bickle’s role.
When the new coaching staff arrived last season, she was one of the most seniored players on the team, and stepped up into a leadership position. She has incredible knowledge of the game and loves to break down the X’s and O’s.
"I’m very much like our coaching staff,” Bickle said.
“I’ll watch our game two or three times whether we win or lose, because I just want to see that.”
When it comes to the NCAA tournament, Baylor has been a top two seed for the last 11 years — but for Bickle and the Bears, their seeding this season doesn’t matter as much as focusing on winning each game in front of them.
“Our coaching staff would probably say, 'Yeah, we're much better on the road’ so we're very happy about that,” Bickle said.
“But I don’t worry too much about that you know, I think for us it’s focusing on the game focusing on who we’re playing.”
She is also preparing as much as she can for her final postseason run in a Baylor uniform, to ensure they’re competitive and can make a deep run in the big dance.
“For me, it's just giving everything I’ve got,” Bickle said.
“It's so difficult because you could be one and done and you never want to be. For me, it's just making sure I’m watching all the possible film that we need to watch, making sure I’m listening, and practice exactly how they want us to guard different things or certain matchups that we’ll have."
While her college career is winding down — she’s trying to hold off on taking a trip down memory lane for now.
“I’m trying not to be too reflective because we could still make a run,” Bickle said.
“I’m trying to just live in the moment as of right now because I know once it ends, that's when it's all going to come flowing in and it's going to hit me. I'm definitely trying to just focus on the now.”
Bickle wraps up her illustrious career named to the 2019 Big 12 All-Rookie team, three-time First Team Academic All-Big 12, 2023 Second Team All-Big 12 and All Big-12 Defensive Team. She’s a four-time Big 12 Regular Season Champ, two-time Big 12 Tournament Champ, and of course — a 2019 National Champion.
25 News asked Bickle, "If you told little Caitlin that this was the kind of college experience and career you’d go on to have – what would her reaction have been?"
“I don't think I would have believed it, especially because I got more serious that fifth or sixth grade about it,” Bickle said.
“But it's so surreal, to say that I got to play for five years at such a high level — that I got to meet people, that I’m about to get two degrees. You just never expect that. You never know what's going to happen. It's been amazing.”
Bickle will graduate in May with her Master’s degree in Sports Management. She’d like to continue playing basketball in the or WNBA overseas for the next few years.
Before that — anyone can watch Bickle and the seven-seeded Bears take on the Crimson Tide Saturday afternoon in their first round matchup. Tipoff at Gampel Pavilion is set for 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2.