Time is short for the San Jacinto-North women’s basketball program. The school announced just prior to the start of the season it would fall victim to budget cuts at the end of the 2017-18 season.
So the Gators played this season almost like there is no tomorrow, even though they have one season remaining. But the news of the program’s eventual demise just fueled San Jacinto all season, culminating in their berth in the 2017 Women’s Division I National Tournament in Lubbock.
And even though their stay was short — losing in the opening game to Harford 80-72 — the Gators showed what the program is capable of.
“Just the opportunity to get on a bus in late March with this group of young ladies, nobody but them will ever understand what they’ve been through this season,” San Jacinto coach Michael Madrid said. “We’ve had a lot of emotions, from learning the program was getting cut to a lot of different things. So they’ve really bonded. It’s a group that I’m going to forever love and cherish and just excited they had an opportunity to come here and play.”
The trip also served as a homecoming of sorts for Madrid, who spent five years as an assistant coach for the women’s program at Lubbock Christian University, which is hosting the tournament. Madrid also coached at Estacado and Lubbock High.
“It’s exciting,” Madrid said. “I’ve been fortunate to sit on that bench and see a lot of wins. I was anticipating having another one today. But it was good to be back and see a lot of friends. My mom lives close to here. I got my start here at LCU and it’s something that will always be important to me, and the people here are special. Just excited to come back and see a lot of faces that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Last year, Monroe College played with just six players and finished 10-20.
With a deeper and more talented bench in 2017, the Lady Mustangs didn’t waste their opportunities, upsetting Harford Community College in the District C championship to earn the automatic berth in the tournament.
Monroe was bounced in the first round on Monday by South Plains College, but the progress the program has made in just one year was evident on the floor of the Rip Griffin Center.
“Last year our goal wasn’t about wins and losses,” Monroe coach Ricky Johns said. “When we realized how many bodies we had when I inherited the program, the girls who were here put the hardhat on and said, ‘We’re going to work hard every day and we’ll take the results as they come.’ They got better each and every day and are the ones who have pretty much built the backbone of this program going forward.”
Shania Johnson was one of those hard-working kids. She led Monroe with 19 points after missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and players like she and Camilla Kilinc are leaving the program in better hands.
“We came from a tough situation last year with few players,” Kilinc said. “It was a struggle but coach recruited some good players and developed us into a national tournament team.”
South Georgia Tech came into the national tournament already missing its two leading scorers, both guards, due to season-ending injuries. And it looked for a while late in the season that the Lady Jets might miss another key contributor.
Desire Corbin played 18 minutes and scored five points in South Georgia Tech’s 67-53 win over Motlow State. But they were 18 huge minutes that the Lady Jets weren’t getting a month ago as Corbin sat out with a fractured tibia.
The injury caused Corbin to miss three weeks, and she’s been slowly working her way back into the Lady Jets’ rotation over the last three games. On Monday, she might have had minimal points, but she yanked down 13 huge rebounds.
“It’s been kind of rough for me,” Corbin said. “But I trust my teammates and I know we’re capable of winning games with or without me.”
Lady Jets coach James Frey would much rather his team try to win with her, but the rash of injuries has also allowed the four freshmen he starts to gain valuable experience.
“She’s played sparingly the last three games … and for her to come out here today and give that kind of effort was great to see,” Frey said. “We’ve been through a lot, but what it’s done is allow our freshman group to grow up fast.”
Rankings vs. seeding
Shelton State Community College spent most of the season ranked in the Top 25, including large portions in the top 10, and finished the regular season ranked No. 8 in the nation.
So Lady Bucs coach Madonna Thompson was a little puzzled when the seedings for the national tournament were announced and her team was seeded 10th – meaning they would be forced to play a first-round game instead of earning a bye.
“I’m not sitting here saying where we fall as compared to anyone,” Thompson said. “The only thing I don’t understand about it is that if you’re using a poll and you’ve been consistently ranked eighth in the nation … why when you come to do your seedings in the national tournament did it not go by the polls?”
Thompson insisted she wasn’t even sure during the regular season or even now that the Lady Bucs should have been No. 8 in the poll, and questioned that a bit more after a sluggish first-round victory over North Dakota State College of Science on Monday. She was just looking for consistency between rankings and seeding.
Turns out, it may have been for the best that the Lady Bucs had to play a first-round game instead of waiting a day.
“We do have a lot of freshmen and a lot of inexperienced players,” Thompson said. “After that performance, you really can’t argue it that much, so I’m not going to worry about it that much. To be honest with you, when we got the 10th seed we might have felt slighted a little bit but the coach in me knew we needed a game and that it would actually be better for us to play a game than to sit a game. I think it’s going to work out because we needed to get all that out of us today.”
Shelton State plays No. 7 seed Tallahassee Community College in the second around at 8 p.m. Tuesday.