The Howard Payne Lady Jackets are the No. 1 team in the nation.

After opening the season with three consecutive double-digit victories, the Lady Jackets climbed from their No. 3 preseason ranking to No. 1 in the most recent USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, released Tuesday afternoon.

Preseason No. 1-ranked Washington University and No. 2 Depauw University have both suffered losses already, which allowed the Lady Jackets to make the move. This marks the first time Howard Payne has been ranked No. 1 in any sport.

“It’s a great feeling, it really is,” said Lady Jackets head coach Chris Kielsmeier. “You can look at it as a negative in that you want to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season. On the flip side, how many times can a coach or a player say they were ranked No. 1?

“It’s a good thing for me, personally, for our players and for the university. We’ve gotten a lot of positive press because of our program.”

The Lady Jackets’ first game as the No. 1 team in the nation will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Brownwood Coliseum. Howard Payne will host American Southwest Conference foe University of the Ozarks.

The Lady Jackets have won 21 consecutive games at home, including Monday’s 84-51 triumph over Sul Ross in the ASC opener.

HPU already had a target on its back being the defending conference champion, but Kielsmeier doesn’t expect the No. 1 ranking to add any additional pressure to the Lady Jackets.

“If you’re trying to be No. 1 today, tomorrow and at the end of the year, it could be looked at as pressure,” Kielsmeier said. “But we’re going to approach it as we just need to win the next game. We have University of the Ozarks Saturday and it doesn’t matter if we’re not a very good team or the No. 1 team in the nation, our focus has to be on that game.”

The USA Today/ESPN Board of Coaches is made up of 11 head coaches at Division III institutions. All are members of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA).