Women's NJCAA D3 Tournament Preview
The National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NJCAA) DIII women’s tournament is scheduled to start March 15th and a champion will be crowned three days later in Rochester, Minnesota. As we sit here today, a few teams are confident that they will bring home a “chip” while others are hopeful for a chance at a Cinderella ending.
Several new rule changes have been enacted:
All nine district champions receive an automatic tournament invitation.
Beginning last season, the four top-ranked teams earn a first-round tournament bye.
The last three spots are reserved for “at-large” selections (non-divisional winners).
Districts with multiple regions receive multiple bids.
Here’s the field.
Rochester Community Technical College (RCTC)
Division: North Plains A Region: 13A Record: 24-1
The Lady Yellowjackets went undefeated in the regular season and are led by third-year Head coach Jason Bonde. They are currently ranked #20 in CBT's Domination Rankings of all teams in all levels of college basketball.
They started third in the NJCAA D3 pre-season poll and never dipped below that ranking during the regular season. By week three, they jumped last year’s defending champs, Owens Community College, to claim the second spot. By week six, they were sitting in first place. In fact, no other team on the poll has recorded a first-place vote until they lost in their regional championship game to Riverland.
The team rebounded nicely after having to live through that 2022 NJCAA buzzer-beating three pointer by Owens’ Taylor Starks last season. It was the basket that ended the Yellowjackets Championship dream. The team would go on to beat Minnesota-West in the third-place game.
This season, that moment doesn’t appear to be affecting them. In fact, the first meeting against third-ranked Minnesota-West was the only regular season contest the Lady Yellowjackets have not won by double-digits.
In January, the team beat Western Tech, Riverland Community College and Minnesota-West. In order to quiet the critics, they accomplished this feat in February as well.
Ravyn Miles has been the “Assist Queen” while also putting up almost 300 points in the regular-season.
“If your point guards are playing well, it makes everybody else better” said coach Bonde.
Miles appears to be fully recovered after suffering a devastating knee injury in High School.
A now healthy Myia Ruzek is the teams’ leading scorer, while 2022 First-team All-American Olivia Christianson is having another stellar season. Sophie Andring and Jada James have been great support options as well.
Those who think RCTC lacks size, probably haven’t had to play against Kandace Sikkink.
“She is five-foot-eight on a good day but good luck moving her” coach Bonde said. “She is not afraid to get in there and mix it up.”
RCTC also comes in at number 20 in College Basketball Times’ Domination rankings.
Best Wins: Rochester swept the series against Western Technical College winning by an average of 35.5 points. Against Riverland Community College, RCTC averaged 29.5 per victory.
Worst Loss: The Lady Yellowjackets made it through the season undefeated but that Riverland loss cost them the top seed.
Team to watch: Until they defeat them, second-ranked Owens is the team to watch.
Seed (3): The Lady Yellowjackets are the third-seed and face the winner from CC Rhode Island and Onondaga.
Player to watch: Myia Ruzek finished the regular season third in scoring with over 500 points. The future carpenter looks to build upon last year’s finish.
Owens Community College
Division: Great Lakes Region: 12 Record: 19-5
The defending champs are looking to win consecutive titles since Hostos Community College accomplished that feat back in 2018 and 2019. The preseason number one finished as such on the final poll.
By week three, the Express dipped in the rankings after suffering three early losses. By week six, they clawed their way back into the second spot but jumped to the top spot by seasons end.
2022 All-Tournament Team selections Cierra Harris, Taylor Starks and Dasia Hardison are no longer on the roster. That means this young team will have to look for their championship magic elsewhere.
Brooklyn Green and Keianna Sheridan have had stellar seasons while BreAnna Clemons has the right recipe coming off the bench.
Best Wins: The 83-70 win over Terra State on February 8.
Worst Loss: After playing a mainly DII schedule, losing to Joliet Junior College from DIII, 75-45.
Team to watch: An RCTC matchup feels inevitable.
Seed (1): The top seed will get the winner of Prince George’s and Anoka-Ramsey.
Players to watch: Haley St. John and Malorie Schroeder are the duo to watch. They have scored more than 500 points, grabbed more than 370 rebounds and have 120 combined assists.
Minnesota West Community & Technical College
Division: North Plains Region: 21 Record: 27-4
There is no doubt Minnesota-West is oozing with talent. They have three ladies who rank in the top 10 in scoring. Coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka has her team on a mission. The Blue Jays have only lost three times and appear ready to make up for last season.
The Lady Jays started the preseason poll in the fourth spot and that is where they finished.
In last year’s NJCAA tournament, they were able to hold off Rhode Island in round one while ousting second seeded RCSJ-Gloucester in round two. After going into halftime tied against Hostos, the Jays jumped out after halftime and put up a 31-point third quarter. Things fizzled in the fourth as they ended up scoring only six points and lost to the eventual runner-up.
RCTC beat them, 84-60, in the third-place game.
Madisyn Huisman, Tia Murray, and Dannyn Peterson put up astounding scoring and rebounding numbers. Brooklyn Scheitel-Taylor is an assist machine for coach Hayenga-Hostikka, but it appears as if this entire team moves the ball around with ease.
Being talented and generous are attributes that could serve them well in the tournament.
Best Wins: Minnesota West was able to beat Riverland and Western Technical College in January. For any who doubt them, they accomplished that same feat in February.
Worst Loss: The Lady Jays had an opportunity to extract revenge against RCTC but fell to them at home. It happened again on February 18.
Team to watch: RCTC. Knocking off a previous unbeaten might be what the Lady Jays dream about.
Seed (5): The five-seed opens against Northampton.
Player to watch: Olivia Hayenga led the nation with almost 600 regular-season points. She also grabbed 229 rebounds and dished 116 assists.
Community College of Rhode Island
Division: East Region: 21 Record: 21-6
Warwick, Rhode Island
The Knights from Warwick, Rhode Island, had a stellar start to the year. With wins against RCSJ-Gloucester and Onondaga, the season couldn’t have started better. This stays true even after losing to DII powerhouse and second-ranked CCBC Essex back in November.
The Lady Knights stayed in sync even with two losses in January. The Knights were thrown from their horses in February as they could only muster a single regular-season win that month.
Last season, they entered the tournament as the 10 seed but were beaten by Minnesota-West. They gained a victory in the tournament by beating Rock Valley, who were the sixth seed.
Best Win: Beating host Onondaga early in the season 82-61 set the standard for how this team was going to play for the majority of the season.
Worst Loss: After leading through three quarters, they lost to Monroe College-Bronx by two points.
Team to Watch: Onondaga, despite a 61-57 win on November 6.
Seed (6): The six-seed opens up against Onondaga
Player to Watch: Six-foot center Maggie Schwab scored nearly 400 points and grabbed over 250 rebounds in the regular season.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College
Division: North Region: 3 Record: 21-0
Johnstown, New York
It is awfully hard to go undefeated in collegiate athletics, but the Raiders out of Johnstown have accomplished that feat. And that has put them at #13 in all of college basketball according to CBT's Domination Rankings.
Beating Onondaga twice by over 20 points should put teams on notice. They beat North Country twice by double digits this season as well.
Head coach Kevin Jones has held that title for all 24 years of the Raiders’ existence. The only thing missing from his impressive resume is a NJCAA tournament championship. Before this year, he only has two tournament appearances, but that will change this season.
Freshman center Makenzie Smith along with forward Andie Gannon have not only helped in the scoring department but have done a nice job on the glass. Abigail Lombardoni is the second-leading scorer on this team.
The Lady Raiders come in at number 13 in College Basketball Times’ Domination rankings.
Best Wins: Swept the regular-season series against ranked opponents Onondaga and North Country.
Worst Loss: None
Team to Watch: An RCTC semi-final would feature two teams with a combined one loss.
Seed (2): The Lady Raiders go into the tournament ranked second and face the winner of Riverland and Dallas Mountain-View.
Player to watch: Kiya Marquez led the team in scoring during the regular season. She also collected over 140 rebounds and had nearly 100 assists.
Prince George’s Community College
Division: Mid-Atlantic Region: 20 Record: 14-8
Prince George’s Lady Owls started hot, but a rough second-half could allow outsiders to doubt the team. What you can’t see from their schedule, all but one of their losses have come from DII or above. No DIII school upended the Owls during the regular season.
Most of those losses come from playing within region 20, which mostly covers teams in Maryland.
Janiah Williams, Maranda Carey and Tori Tolson are capable of lighting up the scoreboard but their ability to snag second-chance opportunities will make them dangerous in the tournament.
Coach Devin May attributes a combination of factors to the teams play.
“Our energy is just to create extra possessions” while also telling me, “a lot of student athletes struggle with boxing out, so we try to take advantage of that.”
The Lady Owls have gotten the message as the team ranks in the top-five of rebounds per game.
The Lady Owls are forging ahead no matter the opponent.
“We’re honestly just focused on the team in the mirror.” It seems as if the loss to Owens in last year’s tournament isn’t on their minds.
Best Win: The Owls began their season with an 81-45 victory over Northampton Community College. The Lady Spartans from Bethlehem ended the regular season ranked 15th in the final poll.
Worst Loss: The 61-point loss to DII powerhouse CCBC Essex.
Teams to watch: The Lady Owls will have their hands full with surprising Anoka-Ramsey.
Seed (8): The eighth-ranked Lady Owls play Anoka-Ramsey on March 15 to kick-off the tournament.
Player to watch: Living no more than 15 minutes from her hometown, Vanessa Schwarzmann has settled in and has scored more than 300 points this season.
Division: South Central Region: 5 Record: 12-7
After an up-and-down November, the Lady Lions did not play a single game in December. They lost both scheduled games in January and the season looked bleak.
Coach Keitha Dickerson’s squad turned it around and have not lost since.
By defeating Dallas Cedar-Valley twice, the Lady Lions sneak into the tournament by riding players such as Leah Jones, Laela Harris and Shaviante Cobb.
They enter the tournament as the biggest unknown. By not playing familiar opponents like most other teams in the tournament, this could be a Cinderella story to keep an eye on.
Best Wins: Beating Dallas-Cedar Valley 67-57 on March 4.
Worst Loss: Losing to Dallas-Cedar Valley 75-74 on January 26.
Team to watch: If they get past round one, undefeated Fulton-Montgomery will be a problem.
Seed (10): The Lady Lions draw Riverland in round one.
Players to watch: Devon Sherrod enters the tournament just shy of 400 points and 200 rebounds.
Division: Northeast Region: 15 Record: 24-7
Bronx, New York
Head Coach Jeremy Thompson is looking for a better start in the tourney after losing to 12-seeded North Country in the opening round of last year’s NJCAA tournament. Only the basketball gods can arrange this matchup as the two teams did not meet in the regular season.
This season started rough as the Lady Express dropped their first two games against ranked Onondaga and then-ranked RCSJ-Gloucester. Coming back from a deficit was the theme last season which gives this ominous start some symmetry.
Thompson dismisses whether his team is a target, preferring to stay focused. His team ended the season on a nine-game win streak.
“We play the Express way.”
“I think we really found our stride and found that identity that we were looking for” said Thompson.
Aleah James, Sierra Jones and Nyeira Spady are great scoring starters while Tania Maldonado and Ariella Johnson can get buckets for coach Thompson off the bench.
Best Wins: The victory over CC of Rhode Island was impressive, but the December 6 win over then-ranked No. 1 Hostos in convincing fashion (84-39) was their peak performance.
Worst Loss: The season-opening loss to Onondaga 75-72, after the way they exited the tournament last season, could have altered the direction of this club. It did not.
Team to watch: A Monroe-Bronx, Owens matchup in the semi-finals.
Seed (4): The Lady Express play the winner of the Minnesota-West and Northampton matchup.
Player to watch: Six-foot three-inch Janay Legagneur is their leading scorer and is a big problem for teams that cannot match up with her size.
Onondaga Community College
Division: North Region: 3 Record: 16-8
Syracuse, New York
What would a tournament be like without Onondaga? The Lady Lazers have played six games this season where their opponents were ranked nationally. In 2022, 11th-ranked Hostos eliminated Onondaga, the third-seed, in the second round of the NJCAA tournament. In that game, after trailing 55-53 entering the fourth quarter, Onondaga put up only nine points the rest of the way.
They would also lose the five-six matchup against 12th-seeded North Country.
2022 First-team All-American Macey DeOrdio returned this season after registering a team high 21 points in that loss to Hostos, and I wonder if revenge is on her mind.
Head coach Kelly Grinnell-Seibt, who was a former player and assistant for the Lazers, has had an up-and-down season. The team had a stretch where they lost three of four games which were sandwiched in-between two four-game winning-streaks.
Best Win: Opening the season with a win over Monroe College-Bronx, 75-72, in the winter invitational.
Worst loss: Being swept by Fulton-Montgomery is bad, but the loss on Valentine’s Day sticks out. The team had won all 10 previous meetings against Fulton until this season.
Team to watch: Fulton-Montgomery looks to be a bad matchup.
Seed (11): The Lady Lazers get CC Rhode Island in the round one.
Players to watch: Hannah Durand and Macey DeOrdio are as dangerous as a 1-2 punch as you’ll see in the tournament. Both players have scored over 360 points in the regular season.
Riverland Community College
Division: North Plains A Region: 13A Record: 21-5
Riverland Community College Lady Devils are led by head coach Andrew Kaiser. The team had an early season loss to Viterbo out of the NAIA ranks and were poised to make some noise come 2023.
Top-ranked RCTC and third-ranked Minnesota-West beat North Plains and are the only teams in DIII to defeat the Lady Devils.
Sophomore guard Savannah Longhoma, freshman center Reanna Schmitt and forward Camryn McQuery are all capable of taking the scoring lead on any given night.
Best Win: Riverland swept Western Technical but their win against RCTC is easily their best win.
Worst Loss: Losing 84-47 to RCTC after leading through the first quarter.
Team to watch: The games against Minnesota-West were close, but RCTC just seems to have the Lady Devils’ number this season.
Seed (7): Riverland draws Dallas-Mountain View in round one.
Player to watch: Six-footer Reanna Schmitt ended the regular-season with over 300-points and 300-rebounds, making her a true double-double machine.
Northampton Community College
Division: North Atlantic Region: 19 Record: 20-6
November and December were up and down for the Lady Spartans. They were able to turn it around to having just one loss in January. That led to an undefeated February in regular-season play with their big win coming over RCSJ-Gloucester. The 52-51 victory on the road solidifies the Spartans’ run.
Momentum is real, and there are few teams who want to face a team that has only lost once this calendar year. Coach Terrence Bomar leans on players like Kania Day and Xion Spence. He also has Alayna Day who led the team in scoring.
Best Win: The win Feb. 9 over RCSJ-Gloucester was the school’s first victory over the Lady Roadrunners although they have only met twice before.
Worst Loss: The missed free throws and failed buzzer-beating shot against Camden.
Team to watch: If they get to round two, undefeated Fulton-Montgomery awaits.
Seed (12): The lowest-ranked team opens against a talented Minnesota-West squad.
Player to watch: Alayna Day led the Lady Spartans in scoring and assists.
Division: North Plains B Region: 13 Record: 20-9
Coon Rapids, Minnesota
After going undefeated in November and an almost perfect December, the Lady Rams appeared to be a team on the rise.
Although unconventional, the coaching duo of Caitlin McKernon and Samantha Doucette got their team into the tournament.
With losses to Minnesota-West, Riverland and RCTC in January, hopes for a tournament appearance started to dwindle.
The team would repeat those losses in February before going on a five-game tear while avenging the loss to Minnesota-West in the Region XIIIB championship game.
Players like Kimori Morris and Mikayla Kanenwisher help keep this shorthanded squad alive. With only seven active players, this team will not only be playing against their opponent, but fatigue as well.
Best Win: Beating Minnesota-West 59-58 for the Region XIIIB championship game.
Worst Loss: Losing 74-68 to Central Lakes back on December 30.
Team to watch: If they advance, No.1 seed Owens awaits.
Seed (9): The Lady Rams kick-off the tournament against Prince George’s Lady Owls.
Players to watch: The scoring duo of Cece Bell and Janea Arnoldi is a formidable one.
The landscape of the NJCAA this season has been unpredictable. There are two undefeated teams, a few teams who have played the majority of their games against higher opponents as well as teams whose star players give their ranked schools hope. The field is littered with underdogs who have shown they can pull off an upset on any given night as well as schools who have not played a familiar schedule like many of the others.
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