JASON FARMER/NEWS-SUN Alexes Bryant takes a shot for the NMJC women's basketball team during a home win. Bryant was named MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Newcomber of the Year for the Western Junior College Athletic Conference. Bryant and the Lady T-Birds will play in the National Championship Tournament a week from today.
The New Mexico Junior College women's basketball team didn't win the Region V Tournament, but the Lady Thunderbirds have been so good this year, that it didn't matter. When the seedings were released for the NJCAA Women's National Championship, the Lady T-Birds got the No. 8 seed, and a first round bye.
"I was surprised, but that is a good thing for us as small as our bench is now," NMJC coach Drew Sanders said of his team getting the No. 8 seed and a bye. "I feel like it is a great compliment, considering how we played on Saturday. They are rewarding us for the whole season and not penalizing us for the regionals."
The overall top seed went to undefeated Shelton State (33-3) while Gulf Coast State (26-2) seeded No. 2. Moberly Area College (32-0) also heads into the tournament undefeated and is the No. 3 seed. Jones County (26-3) and Cochise (29-2) are seeded fourth and fifth respectively while Wabash Valley (30-2) s sixth and Seward County (30-3) is No. 7.
The Women's National Championship will be played in Lubbock at the Rip Griffin Center. Games begin on Monday, but the Lady T-Birds won't take the court until Tuesday at 3 p.m. (MST).
Of course, the road to the national championship won't be easy. The Lady T-Birds first game will be the winner of the No. 9 Salt Lake (26-5) vs. No. 24 ASA Brooklyn (22-1) matchup. NMJC has played, and beaten, Salt Lake this year as the Lady T-Birds won on the road back in December.
"We are going to gather video on both teams," Sanders said. The biggest thing is trying to figure out how we are going to adjust and see how Ni'Asia's (McIntosh) MRI comes out today and how we handle that situation."
Ni'Asia McIntosh was a huge part of NMJC's offense. She was one of the Lady T-Birds' top scorers, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds a game. The sophomore from Gallup was hurt during practice Monday of last week. Sanders does not expect her to suit up again this season.
"I don't think so," Sanders said, "but that is why we are going to see the MRI."
If the Lady T-Birds win their second round game, there is a chance NMJC could have to play Odessa College (22-10) for a fourth time this season. The Lady Wranglers, who won the Region V Tournament, play Hartford College (27-2) in the first round on Monday. Whichever team wins will advance to the second round where it will play top seeded Shelton State on Tuesday. The winner of that game will play the winner of NMJC's game.
"I thought that was interesting, but we can't look past the first one as it will be a really tough game to begin with," Sanders said. "We are happy to be there and we are going to play next man up, where ever it is at."
While NMJC came up short in its quest for the Region V Tournament championship, the Lady T-Birds still hauled in several awards. Alexes Bryant was named the Western Junior College Athletic Conference MVP, the Defensive Player of the Year, and the Newcomer of the Year Award. Bryant and McIntosh were both named All-Conference while Sanders was named Coach of the Year.