BY: RICHARD SPEAS, DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS & STUDENT LIFE
The Northland Community & Technical College Pioneers have completed their winter sport competition season with the women’s basketball team earning runner-up in the NJCAA Division III women’s basketball national championships in Lincroft, New Jersey.
Following a disappointing loss in the Region XIIIB championships in 2015, the NCTC Pioneers gained revenge with a 79-49 victory over Mesabi Range to return to the NJCAA national championships. After starting the season as the number two ranked team in Division III, the Pioneers would see their ranking drop after two early season losses to scholarship teams. Following a 20 point defeat to North Dakota State College of Science, the Pioneers would reel off 17 straight wins to close the regular season at 24-2. The win streak also saw their ranking return to the two spot in the national polls. The Pioneers cruised through the Region XIIIB champions, defeating Rainy River and Mesabi Range, advancing to the national tournament.
The Pioneers, led by Coach Shannon Nelson, opened the national tournament with a 57-49 win over Sullivan County (NY) to advance to the semi-finals. Round two found the NCTC squad paired off with Mohawk Valley (NY). Allison Dahl’s bevy of three pointers in the final moments of the game led a comeback effort, as the Pioneers downed Mohawk Valley 71-65. Number one ranked Roxbury (NY) would be the NCTC opponent in the national championship game. Despite finishing the game in significant foul trouble, Roxbury downed NCTC 61-57 to claim the 2016 title. The class and dignity represented by the NCTC team and their coaches, did not go unnoticed, as the team was recognized when they received the Sportsmanship Award.
The most intriguing winter sports story at NCTC, may have been the men’s basketball team’s improbable run to qualify for the Region XIII playoffs. On January 27th, the Pioneers were stationed second to last (1-6) in the NCAC Northern Division. Rick Nikunen’s squad avenged first round losses to the next four opponents before falling to nationally ranked Central Lakes in double overtime on the road. Closing the second half of the conference season with a 5-2 record, and climbing to 8-6 in conference play, the squad qualified for Region XIIII tournament play. NCTC was eliminated during the Regions XIII playoffs to finish the season.
Coach Scott DCamp opened the third year of the resurrected wrestling program at NCTC with a high of 20 wrestlers. The wrestling program suffered from attrition due to several factors, including injuries. The Pioneers finished fourth in the MCAC Conference. Competing at the district meet in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Pioneers qualified two wrestlers for the national championships. Freshman Mitch Zachman (Albertville, MN) qualified at 165 lbs., and Phillip Jackson (Pembroke Pines, FL) qualified at 197 lbs. Both wrestlers were eliminated prior to championship rounds. “Things didn’t always go as planned this season, but the wrestlers we maintained, showed great improvement,” noted DCamp, “with 5-6 starters returning and two national qualifiers back, we are in a good position for next season.”
Spring Sports Preview
The NCTC baseball team opened the season with a first ever label; defending MCAC champions. The Pioneer baseball team began play on Friday, March 11th in Harrisonville, Arkansas, splitting a doubleheader with North Arkansas Junior College. NCTC won the opener, 2-1 before falling in the nightcap, 9-7. NCTC traveled to Dallas where they split a doubleheader with Rock Valley (IL), then were swept by Northlake College (TX). The team return to Thief River with a 2-4 record. “Two wins are the most wins for the team going South during my tenure at NCTC,” commented head coach Barry Dowers. “The trip answered some questions, and created some questions regarding personnel.”
First year NCTC softball coach, Travis Martin, is faced with the challenge of low squad numbers as the Pioneers prepare to travel to the Twin Cities to compete in a collegiate tournament in the Rosemont Dome this week. The Pioneers are coming off a season where they played just 24 games (6-18), and struggled to compete in the MCAC northern division (3-6). The key to building a successful NCTC softball program will be a strong focus on recruiting for the 2016-2017 season.
NCTC Pioneers sports schedules and scores may be accessed from the NCTC athletic website.