Obviously, the biggest story heading into the national tournament is that the college’s team will be participating, which it should be. What shouldn’t be overlooked are the 15 other teams descending on the college to seek that coveted junior college national title. This year’s field, as always, has a lot of different stories with underdogs and familiar powers who are usual players in this tournament. Number-one seed Parkland was in the tournament last year and has a long tradition of success in their program. They have five returning players with experience from last year in the tournament.
“I feel that is part of the reason we were able to get out of our region,” Parkland head coach Mike Lindemann said. “The girls knew what it was like to be at nationals and wanted to get back.”
Six seed Guilford Tech will be making their first-ever trip to nationals at the Division II level. The squad lost in the regional championship last year, and this year that was much of what drove them to get to nationals.
“The sophomore class did not forget what last year’s loss felt like,” Guilford head coach Bobby Allison said. “We really did not handle the pressure of the moment well last year.”
Allison said that his kids lack no effort and put work in not matched by any teams he has ever coached.
“They are a great group and they are self-motivated,” coach Allison said. “I have had three teams play in the national championship game, and I can honestly say that none of them worked harder than this team.”
Tech’s opponent in the first round, Schoolcraft is a team that has had a six-year absence from the national spotlight. Their head coach has been looking forward to this chance for a while.
“This has been a goal of mine to get the women’s basketball program back to nationals and top of the league,” head coach Kara Kinzer said. “We have had some heartbreakers, but never once did our players come to practice not ready to get better and learn from their mistakes.”
The tournament is not short on Cinderella stories. Fifteen-seeded Union County head coach Cheryl Bell was an assistant for the last team that went to nationals in 1997, so for her, this opportunity is something she’s thought about her whole coaching career.
Not often will you see a team eight games under .500 on the season in a national tournament, but this is the case with the 16-seeded Phoenix College.
“We are the Cinderella story if you look at our season and the journey we have had,” head coach Kristi Kincaid said. “Our record doesn’t indicate all the lessons learned this year.”
Phoenix beat both the number-one and two seeds in their region, including defending national champion Mesa Community College. The team has had lot of change through the season, starting the season with 16 players and now only having nine.
“I really believe the team that is in place now gets it,” Kincaid said. “Once we entered the playoff race, we never looked back.”
For coach Lindemann, the college has a big advantage in pursuing the championship with being able to play at home next week.
“I think Johnson County would have the edge, being able to play at home and bringing in a great crowd,” he said.
Coach Allison has a very unique, optimistic look at his team’s chances next week.
“It will take a few good bounces and some timely good luck,” Allison said. “I am Irish and the tournament starts on St. Patrick’s Day, so why not us?”