The Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team was on pins and needles waiting to see if they would earn an at-large into the NJCAA National Tournament after falling to Casper in the Region IX title game.
During the Monday morning selection show the nerves were apparent as they sat and watched 22 names pop on the screen and not seeing WNCC. Finally, as the last pairing was released, the room went from utter quietness to screams of joy. WNCC earned a spot in the national tournament as the 22nd seed in the national tournament that begins Monday in Lubbock, Texas.
It was hard for the team to set and wait, but they didn’t let the hope fade.
“We were all really nervous. You could tell,” Merle Wiehl, the freshman from Germany said. “We were the last team to get in and we were super excited.
“Everyone wants to go to the national tournament and we were all sad when we didn’t make it as the champion of the regional tournament. This just shows what we did this season in that all the games you played at the beginning of the year helped us get this bid into the national tournament. When we beat Iowa Western in the beginning and beat them there, helped us now in getting into the tournament.”
WNCC will face Tallahasee Community College in the first round on Tuesday, March 30 at 11 a.m. MST. WNCC enters the tournament with a 29-4 record while Tallahassee, who also earned an at-large bid, comes in at 24-6.
This is the second straight year that WNCC has appeared in the national tournament and the fifth time in six years. WNCC head coach Chad Gibney said it was a long weekend waiting for the morning selection show.
“It is a great feeling. I am just so thrilled for our girls to have to have the opportunity to play at the national tournament. It is an experience they will never forget. The ball bounced the right way today because of how we performed throughout the season.
The best part for Gibney was seeing the smiles and tears of joy on his players faces after they saw Western Nebraska pop up on the TV screen. Yesterday was a long Sunday and I am happy it was a morning selection show for sure.”
“It is just accelerating. I don’t know if there are words to describe that feeling,” he said. “It is a testament of your body of work throughout the season and how you handle yourself game after game after game. In tournament play you don’t know what will happen and you want to put yourself in position to get a bid which we were able to do with our performance throughout the year.
WNCC’s bid to the national tournament might have come down to an early-season match-up with Iowa Western Community College, which the Cougars beat 63-53 in November. Iowa Western, who was ranked 16th in the final rankings, was left off an at-large bid. Other teams that didn’t get an at-large bid and ranked higher than WNCC included No. 17 Collier County and No. 18 Florida Southwestern.
WNCC enters the national tournament as the same seed as they were ranked in the final polls at No. 22. No. 19 Hutchinson and No. 20 Panola also earned at-large bids.
Casper College, who topped the Cougars 85-75 in the regional tournament title game, earned the No. 10 seed and will face No. 23 South Georgia Tech on Monday at 3 p.m.
Shelton State was the overall No. 1 seed with a 33-0 record. The other seven first-round byes went to No. 2 Gulf Coast Community College, No. 3 Moberly Area, No. 4 Jones County, No. 5 Cochise, No. 6 Wabash Valley, No. 7 Seward County, and No. 8 New Mexico.
Wiehl said this team is thankful for a second chance and they hope to make the most of it.
“We are focused and we want to play good basketball. We want to play our style of basketball, Wiehl said. “I think what is good for us is we don’t have the feeling of the pressure we might have had against Casper. We can just play and enjoy it.
2018 Women’s National Tournament
First Round Pairings
Monday, March 19
No. 16 Hartford vs. No. 17 Odessa, 9 a.m.
No. 9 Salt Lake vs. No. ASA Brooklyn, 11 a.m.
No. 15 San Jacinto-North vs. No. 18 Hutchinson, 1 p.m.
No. 10 Casper vs. No. 23 South Georgia Tech, 3 p.m.
No. 13 NE Oklahoma vs. No. 20 Trinidad Valley, 5 p.m.
No. 12 Walters State vs. No. 21 North Dakota State Science, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, March 20
No. 14 Northwest Florida vs. No. 19 Panola, 9 a.m.
No. 11 Tallahassee vs. No. 22 WNCC, 11 a.m.