A sense of satisfaction over their regular-season accomplishments and the excitement of post-season expectations accompanied Westmont’s women’s basketball team to Jackson, Tenn., where the Warriors will begin NAIA National Tournament play Wednesday.
Westmont (21-8), seeded fifth in its quadrant of the bracket, will face fourth-seed Carroll of Helena, Mont., (25-5) in first-round action at 11:45 a.m. PDT Wednesday.
“I feel so much excitement,” sophomore guard Jessica Case said Tuesday. “It has been our goal all year to play in the national tournament and we are finally here. We’ve been here practicing hard and have had great practices the last few weeks.”
Junior forward Ali Mooty said the Warriors have a sense of purpose.
“We have had quite a bit of time here to prepare by watching film and practicing and reviewing what we know that they do,” Mooty said of Carroll. “We have worked hard this whole year and we have made consistent progress. Everyone is excited that the big day is finally here.
“I think it is an exciting matchup,” she said. “It’s fun that they are who they are and we are who we are.”
Carroll is led by guard Jolene Fuzesy, who shot 57 percent from three-point range this season (108 for 189) and is believed to hold the three-point collegiate career record (all associations) with a total of 456 career baskets from beyond the arc. In fact, Carroll’s four leading scorers are all guards and the team shoots a collective 44.9 percent from three-point territory.
“When people shoot from the three-point line, we know there are going to be long rebounds,” Mooty said. “So it’s important for us to push people out and give them only one opportunity to score. Our goal is to hold onto the pressure outside and make them put the ball on the floor. They do a lot of looping down low, so it is important for us to communicate, see the ball, see the players, and help on curls.”
Key to exerting pressure on the outside will be the play of Case and guard Amber Stevens, a sophomore from Dos Pueblos High.
“We want to pressure them and not let them get open three-point shots,” Case said. “I’ll need to focus more on my defense and boxing out.”
Joining Westmont in the tournament are four other Golden State Athletic Conference teams. Conference champion Point Loma Nazarene (28-2) drew a No. 1 seed and will face eighth-seeded Robert Morris-Chicago (19-13) in a first-round game Thursday. Vanguard (24-5) was awarded a No. 2 seed in the same quadrant as Westmont and will take on Cumberlands of Kentucky (23-8) on Thursday. Azusa Pacific (24-7) is a No. 3 seed and plays Thursday against Wiley of Texas (28-6). Fourth-seeded The Master’s (20-11) will play Olivet Nazarene of Illinois (24-6) on Wednesday evening.
A Warriors win Wednesday will propel them into a second-round game Friday against either top-seed Oklahoma City (24-6) or Harris-Stowe of Missouri (22-9).
But the trip isn’t just about basketball. On Monday, the Warriors took advantage of an opportunity to conduct a clinic at the Jackson Boys & Girls Club for 25 kindergarten through fifth-graders who were out of school for spring break.
“My heart is with little kids,” said Kerri Reyes, a redshirt player who is traveling with the team. “It was so much fun to get an opportunity to work with the kids and get them excited about school and basketball. We were able to emphasize the importance of academics and that school is very important.”
Before setting up stations to work on basketball skills, head coach Kirsten McKnight and the players shared with the kids what it means to have Warrior attitude.
“Enthusiasm, hard work, stance and faith,” the kids replied as the coach quizzed them.
Now the Warriors will put their message into action as a new group of Warriors fans, comprised of the kids from the Boys & Girls Club, sit in the stands at Jackson’s Oman Arena, cheering on Westmont.
Ron Smith is Westmont College‘s sports information director.