The postseason in women’s basketball has finally arrived and eight teams will be looking to punch their ticket to the NJCAA National Tournament in Salina, KS. The journey begins this week in Clinton, MS and all eyes will be on what should be an exciting tournament. The Meridian Community College Lady Eagles are in preparation for the 2014 Region 23 Women’s Basketball Tournament which will open Wednesday (March 5) at the A.E. Wood Coliseum on the campus of Mississippi College. The Lady Eagles will enter the eight-team field looking to make a trip to Kansas for a second time in the past three seasons. The field is made up of five schools representing the MACJC South Division, one school from the North Division, and a pair of schools from Louisiana. MCC captured the 2012 Region 23 Championship by defeating Itawmaba Community College and the Lady Eagles finished the 2013-2014 regular season in second place among the talented squads in the MACJC South Division.
“This is a great group of teams and it should be a very exciting tournament,” said MCC head coach Jocelyn McGilberry. “We are undergoing a lot preparation for this tournament and we know that we will need to play extremely hard. We know that our preparation is key going into the tournament and each game will be a tough test.”
MCC will begin play in the tournament Wednesday against Baton Rouge Community College. The game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. between the Lady Eagles and the Lady Bears. The opening round game for Meridian should be a very interesting contest as both schools competed against one another in the Miss-Lou Conference. The Lady Bears will carry a 21-6 overall record into the tournament, while MCC will begin play in Clinton with a 2013-2014 record of 19-7. MCC competed in the MACJC State Tournament in Fulton, MS last week and reached the semi-final round. The Lady Eagles defeated Mississippi Delta in the first round of the tournament by a final count of 85-77 which was decided in overtime, but MCC was eliminated by Southwest Mississippi in the semi-final round 72-64.
“It was a disappointment in being eliminated from the State Tournament last week,” added McGilberry. “I just felt that we didn’t give our best effort and we know that our players are capable of more. This is an opportunity to play for a championship and we know that we have a great shot if we play hard.”
MCC is led by a pair of super sophomores that will look to pace the Lady Eagles on offense. Former Jackson Provine star Kristin Sampson has been one of the driving forces behind the success of the Lady Eagles this season and has averaged 20 points per contest. Sampson was also named the MACJC Women’s Player of the Week last week after leading MCC to a pair of victories to close the regular season. Former Neshoba Central star Victoria Stewart has also had a fabulous season for the Lady Eagles and has averaged 14 points per game and four assists a game.
“They have both been exceptional leaders for us this season,” said McGilberry. “They really are not the typical vocal leaders, but they show those actions on the court with their play. They both played a lot of minutes for our team last season and they bring a lot of experience into this tournament. We know that leadership will be very important this week from both of these players.”
MCC has proved to be dangerous at times with its great perimeter play, but the emergence of Miaya Crowder in the post has been a great addition to the lineup this season for the Lady Eagles. The freshman from Decatur, GA has averaged 14 points per game this season for the Lady Eagles and has pulled down at least 10 rebounds per contest. Crowder also had two solid performances in the State Tournament with more than 20 points in each game in Fulton last week for the green and white.
“She (Crowder) is a very talented player and she has had a great season,” added McGilberry. “I still believe there are a few hidden things in her game that we are still trying to get out of her. She has been a very good presence for us inside this season and I am very proud of the season that she has had for our team.”
The tournament is a single-elimination event and will begin Wednesday as Jones and Co-Lin will take to the floor at noon. The Lady Bobcats are fresh off its State Tournament Championship last week and will tangle with a Co-Lin squad that has won nine of its last ten games coming into the Region 23 Tournament. MCC and Baton Rouge will play are scheduled for a 2 p.m. tip-off, while East Mississippi and Southwest will meet at 6 p.m. The final game of the first round Wednesday will feature LSU-Eunice and Pearl River in the late game beginning at 8 p.m. EMCC and Southwest will meet for the second time in a week after the two teams played in the opening round of the State Tournament last week with the Lady Bears defeating EMCC. LSU-Eunice will be competing in the field for the first time as a Division I team this week and will play a Pearl River squad that finished in the semi-final round of the State Tournament last week.
The tournament will also receive a small change that will ultimately send two teams to the National Tournament this season. The NJCAA has changed the format of the National Tournament this season and it has now become a single-elimination event instead of the traditional double-elimination format. This change will dramatically affect Region 23 this season as the final two teams in the championship game Saturday night will advance to the National Tournament in Salina, KS. Four zone qualifiers will receive berths into the National Tournament and each district will receive a zone-qualifying bid on a four-year rotating basis. Region 23 is a part of this rotating process this season and the runner-up of the tournament this season will also receive an invitation to compete in the National Tournament.