LUBBOCK, Texas —Northeastern Oklahoma A&M gets a chance to avenge a second-round loss in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Women’s National Basketball Championship.
The No. 13 seed Lady Norse face No. 20 seed Trinity Valley Community College at 6 p.m. Monday, March 19 in the first round of the 24-team tournament at the Rip Griffin Center on the campus of Lubbock Christian University.
Trinity Valley eliminated the Lady Norse last year, 67-53.
The 32-team tournament is single elimination.
“We’ve got a couple of sophomores that went through that last year and they remember the feeling,” Lady Norse head coach Jim Rowland said. “Going back three straight times as a coach, I know the atmosphere this tournament creates and how things go.
“That has allowed us to create a good illusion for our team about the tournament,” Rowland said. “After all, it’s Trinity Valley, a good team against us and we’re a good team.
“Last year we both had at least four players that went Division I. They aren’t as talented as they were last year, but neither are we.”
Making their 11th visit to the national stage in the tournament’s 43-year history, the Lady Norse are ranked No. 21 by the NJCAA with a 27-4 record.
NEO is working on an 18-game winning streak that dates back to an 84-73 loss on Dec. 8 to Crowder College in the Roughrider Classic at Neosho, Missouri.
Trinity Valley, from Athens, Texas, is currently ranked No. 13 in the NJCAA national poll with a 27-5 season record.
The Cardinals were an at-large selection from Region XIV, District L along with No. 20 ranked and No. 19 seed Panola College (25-6) from Carthage, Texas.
“Not only has Trinity Valley won eight national titles, but they have advanced to the championship game the past two years,” Rowland said.
“They are the only team in the nation to win three straight NJCAA national championships (2012, 2013 and 2014).”
Winners of seven of their last 10 games, the Cardinals dropped a 64-55 decision last Friday to Kilgore College in the semifinals of the Region XIV tournament at Jacksonville, Texas.
“He (Gerald Ewing) is a great coach,” Rowland said. “He’ll have them ready.
“That’s what makes this a championship season because I feel like I’ll have our kids ready to compete,” Rowland said. “I’ve already told them that we don’t care what’s across their chests because what’s across our chest is just as good as what’s across theirs.”
Although the two teams didn’t compete on the floor against each other, the Lady Norse got a good look at the Cardinals during the two-day Budke-Serna Classic, Nov. 24-25, in Athens.
“Our tradition is just as strong as theirs even though we don’t have any national titles,” Rowland said. “Our program has been just as successful over the past 43 years as they have.
“The thing is, we’re a much, much better team than what they saw down there in November,” Rowland said. “We’re a totally different now and we’ve won 18 straight games and our players have found their niche and some consistency in the things that we do as a team.”
Averaging 72.9 points per game on offense, the Lady Norse are led by freshman forward Beth Mununga (5-11 from Belgium) with a 16.8 scoring mark.
Mununga, most valuable player both in Region II and the post-season
Region II Tournament, also leads the team with a 12.2 rebounding average while posting 59 steals. Mununga also has recorded 84 assists with 57 blocked shots.
Comprising the Lady Norse backcourt at guards are sophomores Eneritz Larranaga, Mikayala Shulanberger and Megan Jackson.
Larranaga (5-6 from Spain) starts at point guard with a 10.1 scoring average while leading NEO with 102 assists. She has also made 45 steals.
“Eneritz has been the back-bone of our team all year long,” Rowland said. “She is the quarterback of our offense who has produced three triple-double games this year which is huge.
Shulanberger (5-9 from Skiatook) averages 13.3 points and 2.9 rebounds with 96 assists and 48 steals.
Jackson (5-9 from Tulsa Washington) has a 12.7 scoring mark and a 2.2 rebounding average. She has posted 81 assists and 31 steals.
Sophomore Mariam Gnanou (6-5 from West Ivory Coast) starts in the middle of the Lady Norse offense at center.
Gnanou leads Region II and established an NEO single-season record with 102 blocked shots. She averages 13.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
“The key to our offense will be how we play on defense,” Rowland said. It’s been that way from day one.”
NEO ranks eighth in the nation by allowing an average of 51.7 points per game on the defensive end of the court.
Averaging 6.2 blocked shots per game, the Lady Norse are tied with Northeast (Colorado) Junior College, and Harford (Maryland) Community College for the national lead in that statistical category.
“We really have to get out and play solid defense by blocking out and rebounding,” Rowland said. “That will be our biggest key to winning this ball game because Trinity Valley is so athletic and they want to get to the basket.”
Because the Lady Norse roster consists of only seven players, it will be imperative that NEO stay out of foul trouble.
“You know, the last two years at the national tournament I’ve had a starting point guard and a post player sitting on the bench with me early in each game,” Rowland said. “Our defense generates our offense, so we have to bring our game to another level.”
Trinity Valley enters the tournament averaging 68.9 points per game on offense and 57.8 points defensively.
The Cardinals feature five players that are 6-foot or taller on their 11-player roster.
Sophomore guard Mercedes Brooks (6-0 from Wichita Falls, Texas) leads the Cardinals with a 16.9 scoring average and a 7.3 rebounding mark.
She has created 52 assists and 46 steals.
Veteran guard Michal Miller (5-8 from Michigan City, Indiana) is averaging 14.1 points and 4.1 rebounds for the Cards. She has 66 assists and 41 steals.
Completing the Cardinals backcourt is freshman guard Arleighshya McElroy (5-10 from Richardson, Texas). McElroy averages 10.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Rodrea Echols and freshman Jada Wright start down in the blocks for Trinity Valley.
Echols (5-9 from Overton, Texas) averages 8.3 points and 2.5 rebounds on the wing while Wright (6-3 from Park Forest, Illinois) averages five rebounds and 5.1 points per game with 26 blocked shots.