BELLEVILLE — The quest for a third straight trip to the NJCAA Division I Women's National Tournament is about to begin for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm.
Fresh off an impressive regular season-ending win over Olney Central on Saturday, SWIC (20-5) will take on Rend Lake College in a first round game of the always competitive Region 24 Tournament at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Rend Lake College in Ina.
Originally scheduled to begin on Tuesday, the Region 24 Tournament has been pushed back a day because of the winter storm which pushed across the midwest on Sunday.
"The weather was worse in other parts of the area and some of the schools had already closed school on Monday. It's probably better that they pushed it back a day,'' SWIC coach Mike Juenger said. "We know these teams and they know us, so it's really not a big deal.
"At this time of year it's all about what team is playing its best. We feel like we're playing well right now.''
Because of the schedule change, the Region 24 men's tournament -- also being held at Rend Lake -- will begin on Thursday. SWIC will take on either Shawnee College or Kaskaskia College at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
SWIC, which defeated Rend Lake 70-48 and 65-49, is the third seed. Rend Lake is seeded sixth. National power Wabash Valley is the top-seed while Kaskaskia College is the No. 2 seed.
The Blue Storm, which split with Kaskaskia and lost twice to Wabash Valley, will more then likely have to beat both in order to qualify for the national tournament for a third year in a row.
"It's a tough draw. But the one thing we have going for us is that we've got eight sophomores who went to the national tournament a year ago. I don't think the pressure will bother us at all,'' Juenger said., "I am a little concerned about playing Rend Lake on its home floor. Wednesday night, 7 p.m. game, how will we react? I think we'll be fine. These girls have been through it. They know what it takes."
Sophomores LaTeesa Deloach and Breana Baker lead the way for SWIC. An All-American candidate, Deloach has been at her best as of late. The 5-foot-3 guard hit six 3-point baskets and scored 25 points against Olney Central and is always at her best in big games.
The 6-1 Baker has continued to be a terror on the backboards and play good defense despite being in a pesky shooting slump.
"If Bre scores that's great. But what we need from her is to rebound and play good defense. If there is an area we struggle at times its rebounding,'' Juenger said. "Offensively we're fine. We've got kids who can score.''
One of those kids is guard Erika McCaster, who along with Deloach, Laura Litchfield and Taylor Poindexter can score points quickly and light up the scoreboard.
"We struggled a bit when Erika came in at the start of the second semester until she learned our system and we played a few games together,'' Juenger said. "But she's a kid who doesn't mind coming off the bench and she can score a lot of points in a hurry.
"Then you've got a player like Mone'y Black who does a little bit of everything for us. It's a great group of girls.''
But will this "great group of girls" qualify for a third straight national tournament.
Juenger said yes.
"If we play like we can and have, I like our chances. We'll be tough to beat,'' Juenger said. "Rend Lake on its home floor will be tough and Kaskaskia in the semifinals will be a challenge because they like to get up and down the floor.
"Then if we get there and play Wabash Valley it will be a great game. They are so big and they've probably got two of the best players in the region. But with our experience and with our kids, for one game, I'll take my chances.''