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CVCC Women’s Basketball Begins NJCAA Division 2 Tournament Tuesday
For the first time in program history, the Catawba Valley Community College women’s basketball team is on the national stage.
The Red Hawks (16-12) won six of their final seven games at the end of the season to help clinch the program’s first-ever trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II National Tournament, which is being held this week at St. Clair County Community College in Michigan.
This has been a 10-year journey for Red Hawks head coach Tisha England, who also makes her first-ever national tournament appearance.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” England said. “It’s every coaches’ and every players’ dream to get to the big dance. This has been a process for the past 10 years, and I am so thankful that the Lord has not forgotten about me and has given me my heart’s desire. We are just so excited because we’ve worked so hard.”
The most incredible part about the Red Hawks’ run to becoming one of the final 16 teams to qualify for the national tournament is they did so with a roster of just seven players.
“Many people counted us out,” England said. “We knew what we had in us. We just had to keep believing and keep pushing. We never gave up.”
The Red Hawks are led this season by a pair of sophomores, including guard/forward Keziah Soogrim, who ranks fifth on the program’s all-time scoring list.
“Keziah has shown leadership and understands what winning is all about,” England said. “She was on our team last year, which won a lot of games. She didn’t get to play a lot due to our talent last year. She went from understanding how to be a role player to now stepping into leadership. She’s taken on that leadership role very well with hunger and heart to be successful.
Red Hawk center Nijah Cunningham, who averaged a double double this season with 12.7 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game, has also been a key catalyst for CVCC on the court this season.
“Nijah has been consistent in being persistent in getting better,” England said. “She’s taking everything we’ve asked from her. We’ve given her construction criticism, and she’s turned it around for positive results. She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do.
When the seeding was announced last week, the Red Hawks found out they were the 14th seed and would be taking on defending national champion Kirkwood (29-2) in the first round of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
England noticed a lot about the Eagles when she watched their game film.
“They are a very disciplined,” she said. “They have experience and have been to nationals before. Their expectation is going to be different. They are a detailed team. They know how to fight through adversity. They are going to give everything that they have just like we will. Kirkwood is a good team.”
As for what she’ll tell her players in the locker room before Tuesday’s game, England will speak from the heart as her team steps on the court to make program history.
“Whatever God has for me to say for them in that moment is going to be what I say,” England said. “I’m a firm believer that my faith is my biggest forefront. We definitely saw it this morning. We had our crying and excitement moments. I’ve been filled with a lot of joy this morning and tears because dreams have become reality. Once we step on the court Tuesday, it’s all about basketball.”
The Red Hawks face Kirkwood Tuesday at 11am. Watch the game here.