Lady Cougars end regular season with win

The 22nd-ranked Western Nebraska Community College women's basketball team tuned up nicely for the Region IX tournament with a 3-point shooting exhibition, nailing 12 treys in running past Northwest Kansas Technical College 79-46 in the last regular season home game of the season.

WNCC, who are 14-1 in the second semester, will now turn its attention to the Region IX tournament that begins Sunday at Cougar Palace. The Cougars will open regional play at 7 p.m. on Sunday against Little Big Horn College.

If Wednesday's play is any indication of how good this year's women's team is, then the Cougars are primed for a regional title. At the same time, WNCC sophomore Gritt Ryder said the team knows they have to play their game and be ready for anything. Ryder said they have to play like they did Wednesday night.

"We have to play as a team. That is a key. We have to play hard defense and box out because that is what got us here," Ryder said. "Then, we just have to have confidence. We had a good season and we want to finish at regionals. We need to keep that confidence and practice hard the next couple of days."

The Cougars left little doubt from the get-go what the outcome would be on the scoreboard, jumping out to a 12-0 lead and then, after Northwest scored their first bucket on a 3-pointer by Shannon Waite, the Cougars lit up the scoreboard with a barrage of treys, behind three from Mikayla Brower, who is leading the nation in 3-point percentage.

WNCC connected on six treys in the first half, shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc. The Cougars finished the contest, however, connecting on 12 of 21 from the 3-point line for 57 percent. Brower, Maurissa Ortega and Shalisa Moffit each had three 3-pointers, while Laurin Rivera buried two. Ryder said they were hot from the outside tonight.

"It was nice to have that outside shooting back," Ryder said "We were missing that a lot in the last couple games. We have been in the gym shooting."

But it wasn't just the outside game that worked for the Cougars on Wednesday; they were also finding success on the inside. And, like usually, a lot of the Cougars points in the first half was generated by a defense that, once again, held their opponent to under 50 points and to just 26 percent shooting. The team also held Northwest Kansas to just 14 first-half points, taking a 42-14 lead into halftime.

"It was important for us to come out strong. We talked about playing for each other and we have a very good team off the court as well," Ryder said. "We trust each other and love each other, so we wanted to play for each other and I think we did tonight. We had a lot of energy from the beginning and that was what we have been lacking the past couple games. It was nice to get that back."

On top of everything, WNCC had very balanced scoring output. The Cougars were led by Brower and Moffit with 11 points each followed by Ashley Stevens with 10 points. But, five other Cougars finished with near double digits. Ryder and Ortega each had nine points, while Rivera, Katie Kerkhoff, and Jessica Aratani each had eight points.

Ryder said they strive for balanced scoring like they had tonight.

"We have freshmen that can step up and it is important that we don't rely on the sophomores," she said. "The way we play right know is that anyone can go off for points. We are balanced. We have the inside, we can shoot threes, and when we are hot I don't think anyone can stop us."

This game was also the final regular season home game for the four sophomores that have kept the ship upright with all the adversity the team has gone through. Ryder, Aratani, Kelsey Doddridge, and Idil Ozbayrak all were recognized before the game. Ryder said it was emotional at the beginning when they were being recognized. She said she will always remember this team.

"It was a very emotional night. I love this team so much," Ryder said. "The way we had it off and on the court this year has been very special. When Idil was tearing up [after being presented with a sophomore gift], I teared up as well. It was very emotional. It was a very special night and this is a very special place."



NW Kansas 14 32 – 46

WNCC (16-14) 42 37 – 79

NORTHWEST KANSAS

Letica Rodriquez 6, Shannon Waite 12, Hanah Wedding 12, Shalentha Mayberry 11, Anye Boyd 5.

WNCC

Mikayla Brower 11, Laurin Rivera 8, Kalsey Doddridge 2, Gritt Ryder 9, Shalisa Moffit 11, Katie Kerkhoff 8, Maurissa Ortega 9, Simone Evans 3, Ashley Stevens 10, Jessica Aratani 8.

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