The Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team is ready to try to win back-to-back Region IX titles when the Region IX tournament begins play Thursday in Casper, Wyoming.
WNCC, who captured the regional title a year ago by beating Eastern Wyoming College, will open play at 3 p.m. Thursday when they face Sheridan College. The Cougars and Generals have met twice with WNCC winning both 70-50 and 85-56. WNCC enters with a 27-3 record, while Sheridan Is 16-15.
Sheridan advanced to the quarterfinals with a 68-40 win over Gillette College. Sheridan
Sophomore Anastacia Johnson said the team is ready for the regional tournament.
“Yes, we are ready to get going,” Johnson said. “We can’t wait to play.”
Johnson said they have played well this season. WNCC, who has won 12 straight, is ranked 22nd in the NJCAA national poll.
“I say this year we just want to get out and run,” she said. “When we run against teams, I feel that is our best. We do a lot of running drills. We are a well-conditioned team, and most teams can’t compete with us for a full 40 minutes when we are out-running them.”
The team’s success in games this year starts with their practices.
“It starts in our practices and shoot arounds,” Johnson, from Aurora, Colorado, said. “We have to go hard and stay focused. The team that we play on Thursday, we know we have played them twice. We watched a lot of film these past couple of days and we know what we need to do. We just need to execute. We just need to execute and focus on what we need to do and play Cougar basketball.”
WNCC’s road to a regional championship will be just as difficult as a year ago. Last year, WNCC topped Northwest College 74-70 in overtime before beating Gillette College in the semifinals 63-49. In the title contest, the Cougars trailed EWC in the fourth quarter before a steal by Giovanna Silva led to a lay-up by Johnson to give WNCC the lead and evidentially the championship, topping the Lancers 53-51 with a strong defensive effort in the final 10 seconds.
Johnson remembers last year’s run and said this year’s road is about the same.
“We almost lost in the first game last year. The teams that we played throughout the tournament were good teams,” she said. “They put up a good fight and I think that was good for us as well. I am glad we came out on top.”
WNC’s path to the title starts with Sheridan College, a team the Cougars have beat twice this season. A win Thursday will move the Cougars into the semifinals against the winner of the Trinidad State and Northwest Wyoming game.
The other side of the bracket is just as tough. Miles Community College faces Eastern Wyoming College, while Lamar Community College takes on tourney-host Casper College.
WNCC and Casper are the two top teams, both going through their sub-region unbeaten. Casper enters the tournament at 26-2 and a No. 13 ranking in the nation. WNCC has an impressive 27-3 record this season and enters the tournament with a 12-game winning streak. Casper and WNCC have faced each other twice this season. WNCC won the first meeting 77-72 while Casper won the rematch 82-67.
WNCC got into the quarterfinals with an 87-55 win over McCook Community last Friday. Johnson said the team played well in that win even they didn’t shoot well.
“We try not to rely so much on the 3-pointers even though that is one of our strongest suits,” she said. “That McCook game the shots weren’t falling and we always find ways to score even when we aren’t shooting that well.”
The Cougars bread and butter this season is defense where the Cougars have won 18 games by more than 20 points, including Friday’s win. Johnson said they pride themselves on defense.
“The defense is huge for us,” Johnson said. “Once we get a stop, we say to ourselves are we going to do the same thing to get another stop. We keep thinking what do we need to do to keep teams from scoring. We all enjoy defense because our offense will follow.”
The style of defense the Cougars play has been the juggernaut to the team’s offense. WNCC is ranked sixth in the nation, scoring at a clip of 85.3 points game. WNCC has scored 13 games of 90 or points, including nine games of 100 points or more. Wabash Valley leads the nation, scoring at a 94.1 clip. Region IX schools Miles is ninth, scoring 82.9 points a game, while Casper (79.8) and Northwest (79.1) are 19th and 20th.
“We tell ourselves once we have the lead, try to keep it,” she said. “And once we keep it, we want to extend it from five to 10 points. Once we do that, we try to focus and execute our plays even more to maintain the lead.”
A big key to the Cougar’s offense is the variety of scorers. All 10 active players have potential to put up points. In Friday’s win over McCook, the Cougars points were primarily from the 2-point area. WNCC has been known to knock down plenty of treys, but the Cougars only threes on Friday were the last three buckets of the game.
Johnson said it is nice to have the luxury of being able to make buckets from anywhere and to have so many weapons.
WNCC has five players averaging double figures. Wiehl leads the team at 17.2 points followed by Melisa Kadic at 14.7. Karli Seay is averaging 12.2 points, Jaleesa Avery at 11.4, and Giovanna Silva at 10 points.
WNCC has knocked home 197 3-pointers this season, led by Kadic with 74 threes. Olivia Wiberg and Wiehl each have 27 threes, followed by Seay with 20, Johnson and Josie Perez with 14, Avery with 11, and Eva Langton with nine.
Johnson said all the players contribute in many ways on this team.
“it Is nice to know when the starters come out, the people on the bench can maintain the high intensity that we set,” she said. “We all mesh very well.”
Johnson said that it would be nice to record back-to-back tournament championships, something that is not new to the Cougars. WNCC has multiple consecutive titles twice before. WNCC won four straight from 2003-2006 and then three straight from 2013-2015.
“For me, being a sophomore, it would huge knowing that I am going out with a bang in going back to nationals,” she said. “It would mean a lot as well setting an example for the freshmen to let them know we have high expectations and we mean business.”
Region IX Women’s Basketball Tournament At Casper College
Trinidad State Junior College vs. Northwest College, 1 p.m.
Sheridan College vs. Western Nebraska Community College, 3 p.m.
Miles Community College vs. Eastern Wyoming College, 5 p.m.
Lamar Community College vs. Casper College, 7 p.m.
Trinidad/Northwest winner vs. Sheridan/WNCC winner, 5 p.m.
Miles/EWC winner vs. Lamar/Casper winner, 7 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 4 p.m.