March 13, 2018 11:28 PM
(ABC 6 News) – For the first time since winning the NJCAA Division III Tournament in 2009, the RCTC Yellowjackets women’s basketball team is heading to nationals.
The Yellowjackets, who won the Region 13A championship on March 4, had one last practice on Tuesday in Rochester before departing for the junior college national tournament in Rockford, Ill.
“The girls are excited,” Yellowjackets head coach Steve Hucke said. “It’s going to be a fun week.”
“I’m anxious,” RCTC freshman guard Grace Riley said. “It’s been a long time since RCTC has been there.”
Hucke was the head coach for the Yellowjackets’ 2009 championship team—a tournament which happened in Rochester.
“The difference is we’re traveling,” Hucke said. “We didn’t have to worry about the extra things we needed to do, but getting excited for the travel is kind of fun.”
Hucke isn’t the only member of the Yellowjackets who has basketball playing experience at a high level—Riley, a Rochester Mayo graduate, was a key part of the Spartans’ 2015 state tournament team.
“Just playing at a bigger level helps,” Riley said. “I had nerves then, but I won’t have the same nerves now. We play really well as a team, but it’ll be a new atmosphere. They are good nerves, not bad nerves. You just play and have fun.”
Riley’s sophomore teammate, captain Anika Gardner, has twice as much experience at the high school state tournament level—Gardner was part of two state tournament teams at St. Paul Central as a freshman and sophomore in high school.
“It’s somewhat equivalent, it’s just we’re at a collegiate level,” Gardner said. “It’ll be as competitive as the state tournament.”
It’s been nine years since RCTC played for a junior college title in women’s basketball, but Hucke said not much has changed since that time.
“I told (the team) it’s going to be the three most intense days you’ve ever been involved in your life,” Hucke said. “Basically, what we preach back then and now is to live it, love it, and enjoy it, because that’s how it’s going to be.”
The Yellowjackets will face the University of Connecticut-Avery Point (UConn-Avery Point) in the quarterfinals—UConn-Avery Point leads the entire NJCAA third division in total points per game (87.2)
“We have film on them,” Hucke said. “They’re fast-paced, they like to push the ball down the floor, they’re not afraid to shoot three-pointers. I think we’re a little more disciplined on offense and defense.”
The Yellowjackets, who earned the no.6 seed in the tournament, are the underdog on paper, as UConn-Avery Point received the nation’s no.3 seed.
“We come in with less pressure because we don’t have anything to prove,” Riley said. “They feel like they’re going to come in and just beat us because we’re the six seed. It’s nice being an underdog sometimes.”
“I personally like being an underdog,” Gardner added. “Going in, of course, we have something to lose, but we don’t really have something to lose.”
“I don’t get into looking at (seeding),” Hucke said. “ They’re going to seed you how they want to seed you. You still have to go out and play your best, no matter what seed you are. If you’re the number-one seed, you have to play your best because the ‘8’ is trying to knock you off. If you’re the six-seed, you’re trying to make some noise. It’s a compliment to be in there and to be seeded as high as we are.”
The Yellowjackets show a similar fast-paced style to their game—RCTC has made 177 three-pointers this season (12th in the NJCAA), and they average 76.1 points per game (11th).
“We don’t add much change much, you just have to go out and play,” Hucke said. “You just have to play basketball and see what happens.”
“(UConn-Avery Point) is similar (to us),” Riley added. “It’ll be difficult to go against because they push the ball like us. If we just play our game, we’ll be ok.”
The Yellowjackets open tournament play on Thursday in Rockford at 8 p.m.
Updated: March 13, 2018 11:28 PM
Created: March 13, 2018 09:40 PM
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