It’s not often a basketball team overcomes a two and a half-month winless streak (12 games) to earn a berth in any post-season tournament — let alone on the national stage — but that’s what the North Platte Community College women have done and they are embracing the chance to keep playing basketball for at least two more games.
After a 4-22 start to the season, North Platte has put together a four-game win streak (three in the post-season) that earned them a slot in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II National Tournament. The Knights, who are the 16th seeded team among the 16 teams still playing, will take on top-seeded and No. 1 ranked, Illinois Central Community College Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Pioneer Pavillion, Harrison Ark.
“We had a solid week of workouts as we prepared for Illinois Central and the National Tournament,” said first-year North Platte Coach Jeff Thurman. “Our focus, energy, and effort was present all week. We are definitely looking forward to this amazing opportunity for our program and our student-athletes.”
It’s a national tournament field with 10 of the 16 teams ranked in the NJCCA top 20, and three more teams receiving votes but just outside the top 20. There are 12 teams with 20-win seasons and all but North Platte have won at least 15 games. So there is really no question, what sort of approach the Knights – who lost 17 of their first 19 games — will take for the tournament.
“We have been the ‘underdog’ all postseason and it’s worked well for us this far,” Thurman said.
North Platte opened the Region IX Tournament with a 78-67 win at home Feb. 27 over Southeast Community College (9-20) then went to Columbus March 3 to beat Central Community College (10-15) 68-60 for the Region IX Division II title. That set up the District F championship at North Platte’s McDonald Belton Gym March 9 against United Tribes Technical College of Bismark, N.D. The Thurnderbirds came into the game 15-16.
United Tribes led 22-19 with 3:22 left in the second period when a wide-spread power outage knocked out electricity on the south side of North Platte. After a 30 minute delay, the game was moved to North Platte St. Pat’s high school and there the Thunderbirds went on a run and led by 13 points mid-way through the third period before the Knights staged a comeback and won 57-55 in what Thurman called “a program-changing win.”
“Our student-athletes play with so much heart and willingness not to quit — which as a coach is something that I’m most proud of,” Thurman said. “We will be no different this week down in Arkansas.”
After a 1-6 start to the season, the Knights posted a 77-75 win over Air Force Prep on Nov. 17. The next win didn’t come until Feb. 2 when North Platte beat Lamar Community College (Colo.) 59-58. The Knights had gone winless in December and January to fall to 2-17 on the season.
An important 77-62 win on Feb. 9 over Region IX foe Southeast Community College on the road in Beatrice Neb. proved to be a critical Region IX win as the team went 3-5 in February.
Coach Jeff Thurman was named the Region IX Coach of The Year and three players were named to the all-Region IX team including sophomores Nahatabaa Nacona, (Chinle, Ariz.) and Madisyn Francis, (Houston, Texas) and freshman Emily Joseph, (St. Petersburg, Fla.).
The team is averaging 57.8 points per game and giving up 72.5 points per game. North Platte shot 31.7 percent from the field this year, 23.6 percent from the 3-point line, and 63.7 percent from the free-throw line. The team averages 35.1 rebounds per game and 13.3 turnovers.
Individually, Nacona leads the Knights with 11.5 points, per game. She is shooting 35.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from the 3-point line. Her backcourt mate Francis is averaging 11.4 points per game, shooting 25.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from the 3-point line. In the District F championship the two sophomores hit key free-throws down the stretch combining for a nine-for-12 showing. On the season Nacona is shooting 79.2 percent from the line and Francis 75 percent.
Emily Joseph (St. Petersburg, Fla.) is averaging 10.9 points per game. Freshman Katie Cox (New Port Richey, Fla.) leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game.
“As for Illinois Central, we have a tough task ahead but we’re eager to play and are embracing the challenge,” Thurman said.
ABOUT THE MATCHUP WITH ILLINOIS CENTRAL
The Cougars have an overall record of 31-1 and enter the tourney on a 31-game winning streak, with their only loss coming to North Iowa Area (currently ranked No. 2 in the nation) on Nov. 2nd. Illinois Central has a rich tradition with six NJCAA national championships; this year’s squad added to the tradition by notching the program’s 1,300th win in school history on Dec. 29. They have been a very balanced team all season with many different statistical leaders, but strong defense and unselfishness is what has punched their ticket to nationals. They are led by the trio of Summer Stoewer (13.4 points per game, 2.8 assists), Abby Coates (12.8 points, 5.4 rebounds), and Marquitta Easley (12.4 points, 2.8 assists), with Coates having made the nationals’ all-tourney team as a freshman. Point guard Kathy Pinnock-Branford leads the team in assists at 4.6 per game.
“Our half-court defense has to be like it’s been the last three games and we have to stop them in transition as well,” Thurman said. “If we can do those two things along with limiting second-chance opportunities, we will out ourselves in a great spot.”
A win Tuesday would put North Platte into the quarter-final game against the winner of the game that follows between 13th ranked and No. 8 seed South Suburban (Illinois) and 18th ranked and No. 9 seed Union College (New Jersey). The quarter-final game would be played Thursday at 6 p.m.
A North Platte loss would put the Knights into the consolation round Thursday at 11 a.m. against the loser of the South Suburban/Union College game.
All Tournament games will air live on NJCAA TV (www.njcaatv.com). Broadcasts will be available for download (purchase) following the conclusion of each game.
For more information about the tournament you can visit the official tournament web site at:
NJCCA DIVISION II
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
FIRST ROUND GAMES
Here is the schedule for the first-round matchups Tuesday at the Pioneer Pavillion in Harrison, Ark. (seedings in parenthesis). All times Central.
9 a.m. – (3) Kansas City Kan. (26-4) vs, (14) Chesapeake (20-5)
11 a.m. – (6) Pima (18-11) vs. (11) Lake Michigan (22-5)
1 p.m. – (7) Cape Fear (21-4) vs. (10) Metropolitan (Mo.) (15-9)
3 p.m. – (2) North Iowa Area (21-5) vs. (15) Wayne County (Mich.) (17-12)
6 p.m. – (1) Illinois Central (27-1) vs. (16) North Platte Community College (8-22)
8 p.m. – (8) South Suburban (Ill.) (25-5) vs. (9) Union County (N.J.) (23-4)
11 a.m. – (4) Moraine Valley 29-1 vs. (13) Lackawanna (Penn.) (23-5)
1 p.m. – (5) Niagara County (29-0) vs. (12) Sinclair (Ohio), 22-4)