The Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team will open the season in two weeks and they will do so ranked 17th in the NJCAA pre-season top 25 poll that was released this week.
WNCC, who finished last season at 29-4 and winning the Region IX tournament, is the only Region IX college in the pre-season rankings.
WNCC head coach Chad Gibney said the ranking is nice and it is a testament of how strong the program is at WNCC.
“I think it is a testament of where the program is being looked at on the national radar,” Gibney said. “It is a testament from the team from last year of the position they have put us in. Other than that we just look at it as an opportunity to stay in the polls as long as we continue to get better day by day.”
WNCC will be vying for its fourth straight trip to the national tournament in Lubbock, Texas.
Gibney will take the ranking and use it as a motivation for the team to keep getting better.
“I never thought too much into the pre-season rankings,” he said. “I was just excited that it seems the national perception of Western Nebraska basketball is very high.”
Gulf Coast State out of Florida is the pre-season No. 1 team followed by South Plains, Trinity Valley, New Mexico Junior College, and Northwest Florida State to round out the top five.
Six through 10 include Seward County, Shelton State, Florida Southwestern, Hutchinson, and Tyler Junior College.
The next 10 teams include Central Arizona at No. 11 followed by Jones (Mississippi) College, Southern Idaho, Midland, Salt Lake, Walters State, WNCC, Butler (Kansas), Three Rivers, and Wabash Valley.
The last five teams to make the pre-season poll include Georgia Highlands at No. 21 followed by Chipola, Northern Oklahoma-Enid, Wallace State, and Angelina (Texas).
The Cougars will have an early season match-up with No. 9 Hutchinson Community College on No. 8 at Hutchinson. Hutchinson. WNCC and Hutchinson played last year at the national tournament with the Blue Dragons topping the Cougars 81-60.
Gibney said that will be a stiff early season test.
“I know it is an extremely difficult place to play,” he said. “They are ranked among the top 10 in the country and it will be a stiff test early in the season. But we have to handle our business against the all-stars and Sheridan first.
WNCC opens the season with just four returners back from a year ago in Taylor Joplin, Tishara Joplin, Yuliana Valcheva, and Ri’Manie Pulling.
The Cougars have nine freshmen including Mitchell graduate Bethany Sterkel. The other freshmen include Zarrea Coleman and Dakota Duplessis of Flossmoor, Illinois; Georgia Berry of Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia; Dalgenis Martinez of Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic; Dezmonea Antwine of Denver; Naiya Brown of The Colony, Texas; Maddy Campbell of Caloundra, Queensland, Australia; and Lidsey Mahoukoui of Limoges, France.
The Cougars, who will play their fourth pre-season game on Saturday when they host Metro State, will open the season at home Saturday, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. against the Nebraska All-stars. Gibney said they are taking it one day at a time as they continue to get better.
“We have made strides [over the pre-season games],” he said. “Our goal is just to make strides in the right direction each opportunity that we step on the floor. It is a slightly different group from last year and we are still working to see how we can be most effective in it.”