The Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team will be making their fourth straight trip the NJCAA national tournament in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a 7th-seed and a first-round bye into the March 17-21 national tournament.
The 7th-seed is the highest seed the Cougars have had since the NJCAA went to a seeding format. The Cougars’ previous highest seed was 2012-13 when the team was seeded 14th. WNCC has competed in seven of the last eight national tournaments.
“It is a testament of the great job that our girls have done throughout the year,” WNCC coach Chad Gibney said. “it is really difficult to be that consistent and I thought we did that throughout the season.”
WNCC was one of eight teams to receive a first-round bye and will have Tuesday, March 17 off. The other top eight seeds include top-seed Trinity Valley Community College (32-1), 2nd-seeded South Plains College (32-1), 3rd-seeded Northwest Florida State (27-4), 4th-seeded Shelton State (25-2), 5th-seeded Gulf Coast State College (23-5), 6th-seeded Central Arizona (28-3), and 8th-seeded Jones College (24-4).
“It is exciting and a testament to how well we played through the year,” Gibney said about getting the bye. “To get a first-round bye is something that shows that we were consistent in the season and glad we are recognized for that consistency.”
The Cougars will open the tournament on Wednesday, March 18 at 3:15 p.m. MST against the winner of the 10th-seeded Florida SouthWestern College and 23rd-seed Murray State out of Oklahoma (21-12). Florida SW and Murray play Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. MST.
WNCC earned the bye because of their strong record through the season. The Cougars had a 26-game winning streak until it was snapped in the Region IX title game on Saturday by Casper College 66-64. Casper earned the automatic bid to the tournament and earned a 13th-seed and will face No. 20-New Mexico on Tuesday.
Two of the top eight seeds got in via the at-large means. Besides WNCC, Gulf Coast State received a bye into the second round. The other at-large teams included Hutchinson (28-4), New Mexico (19-9), Odessa College (23-9), Seward County (25-2), and Tyler Junior College (23-9).
Gibney said it is pleased that the team gets to compete at the national level.
“It is definitely a great experience and I feel happy for all our young ladies that they get a chance at playing at the national tournament,” he said. “We definitely want to represent the community of Scottsbluff and Western Nebraska with our best foot forward.”
Tuesday’s first games will have eight games slated throughout the day. The eight game on Tuesday will pit No. 24 Monroe against No. 9 Wabash Valley at 8 a.m.; No. 17 Seward County against No. 16 Moberly Area a 9:45 a.m.; No. 21 Tyler against No. 12 Hutchinson at 11:30 a.m.; No. 20 New Mexico against No. 13 Casper at 1:15 p.m.; No. 23 Murray State against Florida SouthWestern at 3:15 p.m.; No. 18 Salt Lake against No. 15 Butler at 5 p.m.; No. 22 North Dakota State College of Science against No. 11 South Georgia Tech at 6:45 p.m.; and No. 19 Chattanooga State against No. 14 Odessa at 8:30 p.m.
Gibney said he doesn’t know much about either Florida SouthWestern or Murray State, but he will be looking to see what those two teams have.
“We will be on the phone and looking to get as much video as we can over the next week to make sure we are prepared for the next opponent,” he said.
Florida SouthWestern enters the tournament for the second straight season as an at-large team. The Bucs fell in the quarterfinals of the regional tournament to Gulf State College and have dropped their last two games. Florida SouthWestern played one of the tougher schedules of any team according to the Massey Ratings at No. 16.
Murray State comes into the national tournament at 21-12 after winning the Region 2 championship with an 86-69 win over Northern Oklahoma-Enid.
WNCC’s schedule had not been easy by any means. The Cougars have played one of the top 10 toughest schedules in the country according to the Massey Ranking. The Cougars are ranked sixth in the Massey Rankings based on strength of schedule. The Cougars beat Top 20 teams Casper, Gillette, Otero, and Utah Valley State College.
Gibney said the tough schedule they faced this season has helped the team excel on the court.
“We always try to play a difficult non-conference schedule to get things going and play some true road games,” he said. “This year Region IX was really, really strong. There were a lot of good teams. We think we are ready for the moment.”