After wondering for a week whether their season was going to continue or not, the North Idaho College women's basketball team got the news it was waiting for Monday.
The Cardinals had indeed received an at-large berth to the NJCAA tournament in Salina, Kan. NIC (28-4) is seeded 12th in the 24-team tournament, and opens vs. 21st seed Williston State (30-3) on Monday at 2:30 p.m. PDT at the Salina Bicentennial Center.
"It's a total relief," said NIC coach Chris Carlson, whose team will be at nationals for the fourth time in the last five seasons. "It's been up and down all week. Sometimes you feel like you have such a great case to get in, and sometimes you feel like it's just not going to happen."
NIC men's basketball coach Jared Phay had a different feeling Monday morning, after his Cardinals (26-5) were in consideration for an at-large bid, but did not receive one. A couple of highly ranked teams were upset in their regional tournaments, and wound up getting at-large bids.
"To be honest, it got down to two games on Saturday night," Phay said. "Howard lost in the finals to New Mexico Junior College, and that one took us out to some degree, because Howard was ranked ahead of us, and was conference champs. And, of course, Salt Lake lost to Central Arizona. We think if either one of those go our way ... we most likely would have been in."
The four at-large bids went to Coffeyville Community College of Kansas (31-2, ranked second), Northwest Florida State (26-3, ranked third), Salt Lake (28-4, ranked fifth) and Howard College of Texas (28-5, ranked 11th).
NIC, which lost to Snow at home in the semifinals of the Region 18 tournament, was ranked 19th.
"At the end of the day, I can't argue with the four that were picked," Phay said. "Out of the four (at-large) spots taken, I think we were fifth."
NIC's men were bidding for their first trip to nationals since 1997.
This is the first year since the men's and women's tourneys were expanded from 16 teams. Four at-large berths were dedicated to one predetermined area of the country, to divvy up as they so choose. That left four more at-large berths available throughout the country.
NIC's women are the lowest seed of the four at-large teams, essentially making the Cardinals the last team in the tourney.
"All four of the at-large teams are in the top 10," Carlson said.
NIC beat five ranked teams this season, including Williston State, whom the Cardinals defeated 58-46 in their second game of the season, Nov. 8 in Williston, N.D. NIC also beat Gillette (Wyo.), Sheridan (Wyo.), Salt Lake and CSI. CSI beat NIC for the Region 18 title in Coeur d'Alene.
"We knew we could only prepare for that at-large bid in November and December," Carlson said of NIC's nonconference schedule. "There were some tough games that we didn't want to get a blemish."
The winner advances to face No. 5 Shelton State Community College (32-0) of Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Tuesday night.
The Cardinals took Monday off, and will resume practice today and leave for Kansas on Saturday.
Phay said what really hurt the NIC men was, after losing in the semifinals of their regional tournament, the Cardinals slipped all the way from 10th to 19th in the final poll of the year. Most of the other regional tourneys were conducted the following week, so there was no poll for them to drop in the following week.
NIC athletic director Al Williams, who is on the NJCAA men's basketball committee, said since the poll is used somewhat in determining at-large berths as well as seeding to nationals, it would have been unfair to the other teams to end the poll a week earlier, before those teams had completed their regular seasons.
Poll rankings, as well as how a region's teams have fared at nationals over the past eight years, were used to determine at-large teams. The winning percentage of Region 18 at nationals was second only to that of the West Texas region, which includes Howard.
The four rotating at-large berths will rotate into NIC's region in 2015, so the Region 18 champion and the Region 1 champion will each receive automatic berths to nationals that year. They will still play off, but it will be for seeding to nationals.
NJCAA WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT
At Salina Bicentennial Center
Monday, March 18
8 a.m. - No. 16 Weatherford College, Texas (24-5) vs. No. 17 Northeast Community College, Neb. (28-4)
10 - No. 9 Blinn College, Texas (30-3) vs. No. 24 Kaskaskia College, Ill. (24-8)
Noon - No. 13 Midland College, Texas (26-7) vs. No. 20 Volunteer State Community College, Tenn. (23-4)
2:30 p.m. - No. 12 North Idaho (28-4) vs. No. 21 Williston State College, N.D. (30-3)
4:30 - No. 15 Crowder College, Mo. (28-5) vs. No. 18 Redlands Community College, Okla. (21-9)
6:30 - No. 10 Chipola College, Fla. (25-6) vs. Southwestern Illinois College (25-5)
Tuesday, March 19
8 a.m. - No. 14 Western Nebraska Community College (20-14) vs. ASA College, N.Y. (24-3)
10 - No. 11 Northwest Florida State College (24-4) vs. No. 22 Itawamba Community College, Miss. (19-9)
Noon - No. 1 Trinity Valley Community College, Texas (32-1) vs. Weatherford/Northeast winner
2:30 p.m. - No. 8 Darton State College, Ga. (30-3) vs. Blinn/Kaskaskia winner
4:30 - No. 4 Gulf Coast State College, Fla. (27-4) vs. Midland/Volunteer State winner
6:30 - No. 5 Shelton State, Ala. (32-0) vs. North Idaho/Williston State winner
Wednesday, March 20
11 a.m. - No. 2 Central Arizona College (29-1) vs. Crowder/Redlands winner
1 p.m. - No. 7 Southern Idaho (21-11) vs. Chipola/Southwestern Illinois winner
3 - No. 3 Hutchinson Community College, Kan. (33-1) vs. Western Nebraska/ASA College winner
5 - No. 6 Walters State Community College, Tenn. (29-1) vs. Northwest Florida State/Itawamba winner