LUBBOCK, Texas — “Let’s dance” is on the card for the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Lady Norse after they departed Saturday on the 540-mile trip for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament.
The tournament runs Monday through Saturday, in the Rip Griffin Center on the campus of Lubbock Christian University.
“These girls are really focused on trying to get to the finals and we feel like we have a chance,” NEO head coach Jim Rowland said. “My philosophy is let’s go play because we know the seed, and where we’re at and how things came about, but we don’t want to go down there and win one and lose one and then come home.
“We’ve got the hand that we were dealt with and we’re ready to take this thing all the way to the finish,” Rowland said. “After all, this will be our second consecutive trip to nationals during my 12-year tenure at NEO, so our sophomores know what to expect.”
After winning the Region II Tournament on March 11 with an 86-59 victory over Redlands College, the Lady Norse received the No. 11 seed for the 24-team, single-elimination tournament.
The Lady Norse face No. 22 seed Iowa Western Community College of Council Bluffs at noon Tuesday in the final first-round game.
While working on a 12-game winning streak, the Lady Norse travel to the national tournament with a 28-2 overall record.
Last year, the Lady Norse finished 16th in the national tournament.
NEO beat Lake Region (North Dakota) State College 84-40 in the first round then were eliminated by New Mexico Junior College, 61-59.
Head coach Lindsey Vande Hoef has guided the Lady Reivers to a 24-8 season record. Iowa Western defeated Northeast (Iowa) Community College 74-69 in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference Tournament championship game March 4 at Council Bluffs then topped Mineral Area (Missouri) College 66-56 on March 10 for the District K championship.
“Even though Iowa Western is a very, very young basketball team with a second-year head coach, they are extremely athletic,” Rowland said. “They have a very long starting lineup, they like to pressure you for a full 40 minutes and they defend very well.
“They also have three guards that really, really get after you on defense,” Rowland said. “They can also shoot extremely well in the front court.”
The winner of the NEO-Iowa Western contest will face Trinity Valley Community College of Athens, Texas at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The Lady Cardinals are No. 6 seed with a 27-5 record after finishing runners-up last season. Gulf Coast, Mississippi defeated the Lady Cards 63-47 in the 2016 title game.
Averaging 71 points per game on offense, the Lady Reivers feature 12 freshmen and only four sophomores.
Anchoring the backcourt for Iowa Western are sophomores Alicia Mountain and Melis Ucar and freshman Delia Ania.
Mountain (5-7) averages 7.8 points per game with 61 assists and 32 steals. She grabs 3.3 rebounds per game.
Ucar (5-9) scores an average of 7.9 points per game with a 3.9 rebounding mark. She has collected 51 assists and 51 steals on average over the season.
Starting at point guard is Ania (5-5) with a 7.6 scoring mark and a 1.9 rebounding average. She leads the team with 90 assists and 81 steals.
Veteran Lade Adepoju and freshman Jazza Johns start along the baseline for the Lady Receivers.
The 5-10 Adepoju leads Iowa Western with a 9.3 scoring average while grabbing 4.3 rebounds per game. She has posted 29 assists and 46 steals.
Johns (6-0) leads the Lady Reivers with a 4.4 rebounding average while scoring 8.8 points per game. She has also made 22 blocked shots.
“We have to really get after it and defend this team,” Rowland said. “Then, we’re also going to have to handle the pressure that they’re going to bring because we don’t see that in our league.
“They want to run-and-jump us and we’ve got to be prepared for that,” Rowland said. “Then in half-court they want to try and speed us up. It’s not that we don’t want to play fast, because we do. It becomes a matter of us not turning the ball over.”
Averaging 81.3 points per game, the Lady Norse feature sophomores Kamry Orr, Mariah Green and Maria Delgado in their backcourt.
Orr (5-5), who joined NEO after a freshman season at Sam Houston State University, earned all-Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference and all-Region II honors at point-guard. She leads the team with 104 assists and 75 steals while scoring 12.5 points per game.
Green (5-4) appeared in 28 games as a freshman for the Lady Norse. She has a 9.4 scoring average with 81 assists and 34 steals.
Delgado (5-9) also represented the Lady Norse on both the first team all-OCAC and all-Region II squads.
She leads the NEO offense with a 16.3 scoring average. While grabbing 3.3 rebounds per game, she has recorded 75 assists and 42 steals.
Sophomores Sara Boric and Hatty Nawezhi start inside for NEO.
Boric (6-5) has a 6.7 scoring average and a 7.3 rebounding mark through 30 games. She also has 57 blocked shots.
Nawezhi (6-2) was also first-team all-conference and all-region while leading the Lady Norse with a 9.9 rebounding average.
She set an NEO school record with 18 games with a double-double performance. Nawezhi has averaged 13.6 points per game with 66 assists and 33 steals.
“When you play a team like ours, I’m not so sure what they will do in terms of our ‘bigs,’” Rowland said. “It will be interesting how they play us inside. I’m sure we’ll see some double teams like we’ve seen all year long.
“We may even see more man-to-man against them,” Rowland said. “They will have to figure out a way to take both Hatty and Sara out of the game.”
Monday’s schedule includes No. 16 San Jacinto (Texas) North College (24-8) vs. No. 17 Harford (Maryland) Community College (28-3), 10 a.m.; No. 9 South Plains (Texas) College (27-5) vs. No. 24 Monroe (New York) College (21-6), noon; No. 15 South Georgia Tech (29-4) vs. No. 18 Motlow State (Tennessee) Community College (27-5), 2 p.m.; No. 10 Shelton State (Alabama) Community College (30-2) vs. No. 23 North Dakota State College of Science (30-3), 4 p.m.; No. 13 Jones (Mississippi) State (27-1) vs. No. 20 Western Nebraska (28-4), 6 p.m., and No. 12 Wabash Valley (Illinois) College (31-1) vs. No. 21 Cochise (Arizona) College (27-3), 8 p.m.
The final two first-round games on Tuesday include No. 14 Walters State (Tennessee) Community College (25-6) vs. No. 19 Tyler (Texas) Community College (24-8) at 10 a.m. and NEO-Iowa Western.
The tournaments top eight seeds — No. 1 Gulf Coast (Florida) State College (27-2), No. 2 Odessa (Texas) College (24-0), No. 3 Chipola (Florida) College (25-3), No. 4 Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College (28-1), No. 5 Salt Lake (Utah) Community College (26-4), No. 6 Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College (22-5), No. 7 Tallahassee (Florida) Community College (22-6) and No. 8 Seward County (Kansas) Community College (28-1) — received first round byes.
All games will be streamed live over the NJCAA TV network.