Cougar women begin regional play Saturday

The Western Nebraska Community College women's basketball team's goal for a second straight Region IX title begins Saturday when they partake in the Region IX Tournament Rock Springs, Wyo.

The Cougars, 26-4, will open with an unusual matchup when they face Gillette College Saturday at 1 p.m. WNCC and Gillette met in last year's championship game, where the Cougars defeated the Pronghorns xx-xx.

The match-up of the No. 1 and No. 8 seeds could be a little misleading as Gillette enters with a 7-22 record, but had to forfeit 10 games in the first semester because of an ineligible player. Intriguing match-up, yes, but it is a match-up the Cougar players are looking forward.

WNCC enters the tournament as one of the hottest teams, winners of their last nine. WNCC received votes in the final NJCAA poll on Wednesday and has quietly put together a solid season behind a balanced scoring attack. Most of that success has really shown since their loss to Eastern Wyoming College in January, where they lost 65-63.

Sophomore Laurin Rivera said since the EWC loss, this team has picked up the pace after a heart-to-heart talk from head coach Dave Harnish.

"After our loss to EWC, coach had a heart-to-heart talk with us," Rivera said. "After that game we went into our locker room and we must have talked for two hours. That really got the team thinking like we really need to start stepping up and pulling through. Everything he said really went through us and we have been doing really good ever since."

After that heart-to-heart talk, the Cougars have shifted their game into a whole different level. WNCC won some big contests during their 9-game win streak whether it was by an offensive attack that is averaging nearly 85 points a game. Two of the biggest wins during that stretch for the Cougars came against Lamar, when they blitzed the Lopes 98-71. WNCC also avenged that earlier loss to EWC with a commanding 76-46.

Rivera said a big key in the wins is listening to coach and executing the game plan. That is what they did to perfection against Lamar and EWC.

"We just need to do what coach tells us and come out with energy at the beginning," Rivera said. "I think if we are pumped and ready to go like we have been these last few games, we can make it. I think Harnish does that [coaching] really well. He teaches whoever comes in and everyone improves. I think he is a good coach."

The tournament begins with four first-round games on Saturday and Sunday. The quarterfinals are slated for Monday, semifinals on Tuesday and the championship on Wednesday.

Saturday's first round pairings include WNCC vs. Gillette at 1 p.m., No. 2 Casper College against No. 7 McCook at 3 p.m., No. 2 Otero Junior College vs. No. 7 Miles at 5 p.m., and No. 1 Western Wyoming vs. No. 9 Little Big Horn College at 7 p.m.

Sunday's first round will have No. 4 Northwest College against No. 5 Northeastern Junior College at 1 p.m., No. 3 Eastern Wyoming College against No. 6 Central Wyoming College at 3 p.m., No. 3 Dawson Community College taking on No. 6 Trinidad State Junior College at 5 p.m., and No. 4 Lamar Community College facing No. 5 Sheridan College at 7 p.m.

If WNCC wins on Saturday, they will face the winner of the Northwest and Northeastern game on Monday at 1 p.m.

WNCC comes into the regional tournament with a balanced scoring attack whether it is from the inside or outside. The three returning sophomores, Rivera, Ashley Stevens, and Shalisa Moffit lead the team. Stevens is having an outstanding season, averaging 14.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Rivera has chipped in a quiet 10 points a game, while averaging four assists a game. Moffit is averaging nine points and nearly two blocks a game.

The Cougars are also getting production from several freshmen. LIle Havili is packing a punch, averaging 10.6 points and six rebounds a game. Abi Lujan leads the team, averaging 6.5 rebounds a game. She also is scoring seven points, while Angela Vigil has stepped up her game to the tune of eight points a game, while Lyndie Puckett is averaging six points and has converted 47 percent of her 3-point shots (29 of 61).

The tournament can be watched online from the Western Wyoming Community College athletic website or at

Tournament Schedule

Saturday, March 1

1 p.m. – WNCC (26-4) vs. Gillette (7-22)

3 p.m. – McCook (6-24) vs. Casper (20-10)

5 p.m. – Miles (15-15) vs. Otero (16-10)

7 p.m. – Western Wyoming (23-7) vs. Little Big Horn (9-20)

Sunday, March 2

1 p.m. – Northeastern JC (14-14) vs. Northwest College (18-12)

3 p.m. – EWC (18-12) vs. Central Wyoming (13-14)

5 p.m. – Dawson (22-8) vs. Trinidad State (14-12)

7 p.m. – Lamar (17-13) vs. Sheridan (18-12)

Monday, March 3

1 p.m. – Winners of 1 p.m. games

3 p.m. – Winners of 3 p.m. games

5 p.m. – Winners of 5 p.m. games

7 p.m. – Winners of 7 p.m. games

Tuesday, March 4

Semifinals – 5 and 7 p.m.

Wednesday, March 5

Championship – 6 p.m.

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