The sophomores on the Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team remember what happened a year ago.
The team was all prepared and psyched to attend the national tournament after receiving the highest seed in school history, No. 7, for the national tournament. Three days before they were to depart for Lubbock, Texas, the sports world was shut down. That was March 12 and the tournament was postponed until April, which later was canceled because of the pandemic.
The team couldn’t shake the bad pandemic news in March as last month, the team was sidelined for two weeks because of COVID concerns. Then, coming back with little practice, the team fell to Otero Junior College 70-68 and then two days later to McCook Community College 65-57 costing them a chance to host the regional tournament.
The month of March the last two years have not been nice to the women’s basketball team, but the team is hoping April is a different story as the Cougars are anxious to get back to the national tournament.
Sophomore Maddy Campbell, who was part of last year’s team said the team is ready to get back to nationals.
“We are all hungry for it; we are all hungry to win the regional tournament and then go to nationals and compete at the national level,” she said. “It will be great for us and especially for the girls that are trying to go to a four-year school for exposure.”
That road begins Thursday when the Region IX tournament opens in La Junta, Colorado, with the winner advancing to the NJCAA national tournament in Lubbock, Texas, April 19-24.
The Cougars’ trek to the regional title tips off at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday when WNCC, the No. 2 seed from the South, faces Laramie County Community College. The Golden Eagles defeated Central Wyoming College in a first round game on Saturday 53-38 while the Cougars had a bye.
A win Thursday would move the Cougars into the semifinals at 4 p.m. against the winner of the Casper College and Northeastern Junior College game, which will be played Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Casper is ranked third in the nation and holds a 20-0 record. WNCC faced Casper once this season and lost to them at the T-Birds home court in double overtime 95-88.
The finals are slated for Saturday at 4 p.m.
Campbell said the team is ready for regionals and have been working hard to achieve that goal of a trip to nationals.
“We have been practicing really hard and really going at it in the gym,” Campbell said. “I think we well-prepared ourselves especially Casper who we might be playing the second day.”
Campbell said they put March behind them and ready for what April has in store.
“It is very important to us (to put March behind us) and keep continuing with our success and keep going as a team,” she said. “Corona was definitely not good for us but we pretty much took it game by game and built up progress from there.”
WNCC was having a fantastic season as they were ranked in the Top 10 before all the coronavirus stuff hit. After suffering those two losses, which cost them a chance to host the regional tournament, WNCC reeled off two wins over Lamar 67-53 and then a big 20-point win over Otero 75-55 on March 30.
That win over Otero really was the turning point where the Cougars trailed big in the first half, but then exploded in the second, third and fourth quarters to roll to the 20-point win. Campbell said that win made a statement of how her team can play.
“It was definitely important to show for not only ourselves but for everyone else,” she said. “Especially for it being a home game and having the home court advantage, was pretty important to get the win and show that we could do it, and to show that we are a better team than what we have been playing as.”
Anything is possible at the regional tournament this year and nothing can be a given. WNCC has appeared in the last four Region IX tournament.
Campbell and the other sophomores know how hard it can be playing three straight days where a team will face three quality teams.
“It will be hard definitely. I know last year we struggled with fatigue playing three days in a row,” she said. “Hopefully this year we prepared ourselves and we be successful.”
WNCC’s road to the national tournament will not be easy. LCCC enters with a 12-9 record. The two squads have played twice this season with WNCC winning 87-61 at Cheyenne and the 92-48 at Scottsbluff.
The semifinal game that could be against Casper will be against a Top five team that WNCC knows they can compete against. They know that any chance of a trip to nationals rides through Casper College.
“It definitely is doable,” Campbell said. “We are all excited to have a go at them and try to trip them up on the leader board and get the win.”
The finals could be between four teams. Thursday’s games on the other side of the bracket pits McCook Community College against Eastern Wyoming College at 7:30 p.m. Thursday while Otero takes on Northwest College at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Those two winners will meet in the semifinals at 6 p.m.
WNCC has faced all four teams on the other side of the bracket. The Cougars defeated Northwest 91-76 back on Feb. 12 and took two from EWC 72-63 at Torrington and 88-71 at Cougar Palace.
The Cougars split against McCook and Otero. WNCC defeated McCook 89-45 at Cougar Palace before falling to the Indians after coming back from COVID 65-57 on March 21.
Campbell definitely believes this team can win regionals and make a fifth straight trip to nationals.