Competing in the NJCAA Women's Division I Basketball Tournament for a third straight year, the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm will be a team on a mission on Tuesday at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kan.
Going one and done at the national finals in each of the last two years, SWIC will be looking for its first win at the tournament since the 1999-2000 season.
It won't be easy either. The Blue Storm begin their 2014 national tournament quest when they takes on Tyler (Texas) Junior College Apaches at noon Tuesday in an opening-round game.
There is no margin for error. You lose, you go home.
"If there is one thing I don't think is right it's that one loss at the national tournament and you go home. You play all year to get here and if you have a bad day, you lose and go home. But that's the way it is and its the same for all 24 teams who are here,'' Blue Storm coach Mike Juenger said. "The way I'm looking at is that we're going to win our first game and we're going to being playing on Wednesday night in the round of 16 against Southern Idaho.''
Making their fifth national finals appearance since 1999, the Blue Storm (23-5) is the 22nd seed. They have a tough draw by taking on perennial national title contender Tyler Junior College in a rematch of the 2000 national title game that was won by Tyler 57-39.
The 2014 Appaches team enters tournament play as the 11th seed and with a 28-5 record.
"When you talk of Tyler, you are speaking about one of the top programs in the nation year after year," Juenger said. "It's unheard of for a team in our Region (24) to get to the national finals three straight years like we have been able to do. But teams like Chipola (Fla.), Tyler, Trinity (Texas) Valley and Southern Idaho, they are here almost every year.''
Tyler, which lost to top-ranked and top-seeded Trinity Valley in its region title game, features a big, strong and quick team. The Appaches are an up-tempo squad which relies heavily on the 3-point shot and uses very little time on each offensive possession.
"The game will depend on our ability to set the pace and tempo. If can't play at the speed they do and if we try to, I don't think we will have a chance to beat them,'' Juenger said. "We need to slow it down, work the clock and try and get a good shot on every possession.
"Defensively, they will full court press and try to get transition baskets off turnovers. We have to be able to handle the basketball against their press.''
The Blue Storm are led by the top trio of guards in Region 24. Sophomore Erika McCaster leads SWIC in scoring at 16.9 points, while Lateesha Deloach (12.9) and freshman Laura Litchfield (11.8) are also solid offensive players.
In the middle are a quartet of sophomores in Breana Baker, Mone'y Black, Sorriyah Ranger and Brea Gegg who will need to rebound and play defense if the Blue Storm is to advance past the first round.
A win would move SWIC into a second round game against Southern Idaho at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
"That would mean a lot to these kids to be able to win a game at the national finals. I've got eight sophomores and they've been a huge part of this basketball program the last two years,'' Juenger said. "It's a game we can win. But we have to be able to execute on both ends of the court."
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org