SALINA, Kan. Northeastern A&M Lady Norse head coach Jim Rowland and assistant coach April Ponds have been to the National Junior College Athletic Association Women's Division I National Tournament before.

But none of their players have set foot on the Bicentennial Center court.

That situation will change Monday as the Lady Norse have a practice session to prepare for their first round game at noon Tuesday against the Lady Thunderbirds of New Mexico Junior College.

The Lady Norse enter the 16-team, double-elimination tournament as the No. 11 seed with a 23-9 record while the No. 6 seed Lady Thunderbirds are 26-4 on the year.

"These girls are on cloud nine right now after they got over the hump of beating Northern Oklahoma-Enid 58-57 in overtime last Sunday," Rowland said. "That was our goal all year long and we told them to stick their chests out and be proud of what they accomplished.

"But, at the same time we still have business to take care of," Rowland said. "So, we've been explaining to them all week that, 'yes, this is your first time, but it's not either mine or Coach Ponds' first time' and we want them to realize what's ahead."

Coach Rowland took his 2006-07 Lady Norse squad to seventh place in the NJCAA National Tournament while Ponds played for coach B.J. Smith's 1999-2000 team that finished fourth in the tournament with a 31-2 record.

"We're trying to get the girls to understand that as Region II Championships, we're expected to win in Salina," Rowland said. "Even though I want the girls to have good memories about the banquet, the ceremonies and all the other trappings, I want them to know why we're here in the first place and that is to survive and advance."

Although most of the time when teams are going into a national tournament, they know little or nothing about each other. However, that's not the case between these two teams because both coaches are quite familiar with each others program.

Coach Drew Sanders, former head coach at Eastern Oklahoma State College, is in his fifth season with the Lady Thunderbirds and has guided the team to their first national tournament appearance. The Lady Thunderbirds defeated Odessa, Texas, 64-51, last Sunday in the Region 5 Tournament at Lubbock, Texas.

During his seven years with the Eastern Lady Mountaineers, Sanders posted a 145-70 overall record. He earned the Region II Coach of the Year in 2000-2001 while directing the Lady Mountaineers to the NJCAA Final Four. As both a high school and junior college coach for 32 years, Sanders has a combined 571-306 record.

"Drew is well known throughout the state of Oklahoma at both the high school and junior college levels," Rowland said. "He is a great defensive-minded coach and really has his kids work hard. Coach Ponds actually coached for Drew at Eastern once she finished playing.

"This is going to be one of those grind-out, defensive battles like we had last weekend against Enid," Rowland said. "He's got a girl (Honor Duvall) who played for his brother Brett in Cache, Okla., who plays really tough in the post position."

When you analyze these two teams, statistically they are a lot alike. Their style of play is also very similar.

The Lady Thunderbirds rank 11th in the nation by allowing an average of 50.9 points per game while the Lady Norse are 13th nationally with a 51.8 average per contest.

"I think we have an edge on them in the paint with Wilka (6-5 sophomore Wilka Montout)," Rowland said. "But, they appear to be a little more athletic at the guards and they like to push the basketball in transition.

"They really don't do anything that we haven't seen and I'll take the matchup," Rowland said. "I think we're two evenly matched teams and we know what each other is going to try and do."

Freshmen Eliana Fernandez and Megan Schieber along with sophomore Kendra Harbert comprise the Lady Norse guard corps.

Fernandez (5-7 from Columbia) ranks third on the team in scoring with a 7.7 average while leading the squad with 95 assists and 75 steals. She also averages 4.2 rebounds per game.

Schieber (5-9 from Newkirk) averages 6.4 points with 46 assists and 26 steals.

Harbert (5-7 from Putnam City North) has a 5.8 scoring mark with 27 assists and 33 steals.

Matching up in the backcourt for the Lady Thunderbirds are sophomores Stacie Telles or Kya Degarmo at point guard with freshmen Valarie Barraga and Waleska Perez.

Telles (5-6 from El Paso, Texas) averages 8.2 points with 93 assists and 23 steals.

Degarmo (5-3 from Albuquerque, N.M.) leads NMJC with 109 assists and 69 steals while scoring 6.2 points per game.

Barraga (5-9 from El Paso, Texas) has a 7.1 scoring mark with 30 assists and 29 steals.

Perez (5-10 from Caracas, Venezuela) is scoring 5.5 points per game with 51 assists and 45 steals.

Sophomores Katy Cooper and Montout start inside for the Lady Norse.

Cooper (6-2 from Stella, Mo.) leads the Lady Norse both with 43 blocked shots and a 9.3 rebounding mark while averaging 6.7 points per game.

Montout (6-5 from French Guiana) led the entire Region II in scoring with an 18.6 average while grabbing 8.2 rebounds with 35 blocked shots.

Starting in the paint for New Mexico Junior College are Duvall and Teonnia Campbell.

Duvall (6-0 from Cache, Okla.) is the Lady Thunderbirds leading scorer with a 14.2 average while grabbing six rebounds per game. She has made 29 assists and 26 steals with 17 blocked shots.

Campbell (5-10 from Ontario, Canada) leads the Lady Thunderbirds with a 7.2 rebounding average and 23 blocked shots while scoring 11.2 points per game with 82 assists and 66 steals.

"Just like the Enid game, we want to be the first team that comes out swinging," Rowland said. "It's going to be a new situation for both team, so the team that settles in first will have an advantage."

Winner of this game will face the winner of the No. 3 seed Central Arizona (29-1) versus No. 14 seed Southwestern Illinois (27-6) at 6 p.m. Wednesday while the two losers will play an elimination game at 4 p.m. Wednesday.