Anoka-Ramsey Community College, the fifth-ranked women’s basketball team in the nation, punched its return ticket to the NJCAA Division III National Championship tournament after capturing the Region XIIIA title with a 78-68 win over No. 10 Minnesota West in the championship game played at Anoka-Ramsey March 3.
The national tournament is March 15-17 in Rochester.
Anoka-Ramsey seemingly is unstoppable on its home court as its home winning streak extended to more than three seasons with the region win.
The Golden Rams split the regular season meetings with both regional foes, Minnesota West and Western Tech, which showed the depth in the region this season.
“Its great,” coach Dave DeWitt said to reach nationals which will be played at Rochester CTC. “The competition this year was very even and any four could have won it. So it’s a good result for all of the hard work they put in.”
Anoka-Ramsey ended the regular season with a 73-71 double overtime loss at Western Tech in LaCrosse, Wis., only to return home to face Western Tech at the Coon Rapids campus in the region semifinal which went to the Golden Rams 71-44. The regular season finale was postponed from Jan. 30 and gave the Golden Rams a 20-5 regular season record.
“[Western Tech] has a couple good perimeter players along with good size and a big (player) who can step out and make shots from the outside. They got up and down the floor pretty well,” DeWitt said about Western Tech.
The semifinal win set up a third meeting of the season with Minnesota West. Once again, the Golden Rams won the regular season meeting in Coon Rapids 72-61, Jan. 19 before losing 85-68 in Worthington Feb. 13.
DeWitt said his team has relied on three-pointers and an up-tempo style offense to push the pace. “We’re not big so no question we’re a three-point team. We live and die by the three and we made 14 of them in that game,” he said about region championship game. “We took good shots and defended well against a huge team.”
The Golden Rams outscored Minnesota West 42-18 from the three-point line on 40 percent shooting from behind the line, while the team shot 38.1 percent from the field. The Golden Rams bench also played a big role in outscoring Minnesota West 24-5.
Anoka-Ramsey opened with a 37-31 lead at the half and kept up that pace in the second half, outscoring the Jays by four points in the second half for the final score.
Minnesota West forward Tiffany Gehl had a game-high 23 points and center Katey Granstra had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds in the loss.
Anoka-Ramsey countered with a well-rounded team performance. Seven players had eight points or more.
Kendra Norman led the way with 15 points and three steals. The team had eight steals and Nicole Howard and Paris Finkles each blocked a shot.
All-State honoree Tacita Gonzalez had 12 points, five assists and two rebounds for the Golden Rams.
DeWitt said Gonzalez, who took the 2011-12 season off, isn’t just a starting point guard. “She’s our floor leader and is the one kid who has the ability to get to the basket,” DeWitt said.
She also ran the point on the 2010-11 national title team. “She has a lot of energy, is a good communicator and handles the pressure very well,” DeWitt said.
Earlier this season DeWitt didn’t play Gonzalez and what was a seven-point lead in the final minutes quickly evaporated into a loss “because we didn’t have anyone who could handle the pressure to get the ball across the mid-court line,” he said.
The Golden Rams open nationals against eighth-ranked Montgomery College of Maryland in Rochester March 15-17. Dewitt said Montgomery looks like another team which likes to push the tempo of the game, averaging more than 80 points per game but uses a very athletic and long line-up to score its points. “It will be the toughest first-round game we’ve had,” he said.
Anoka-Ramsey enters nationals with a 22-5 mark and expectations are high to make another run at the national title. The Golden Rams won a national title in 2010-11 and finished third in 2009-10 and 2011-12.
Men place third
Anoka-Ramsey men’s basketball knew it was in an uphill battle to reach the NJCAA Nationals.
Given what the team’s played through this season, the sudden death of the heart of the team in second-year post Henry Breedlove in December and how to continue to play in a very competitive conference, expectations were rather unknown in the MCAC-Region 13 tournament.
The Golden Rams opened with an 80-73 win against Central Lakes before losing to Rochester Community and Technical College 80-61 in the semifinals.
Anoka-Ramsey regained its composure to capture the third-place title by a 98-96 score against Minnesota State-Fergus Falls March 3.
Rochester won the region title over No. 4 seed Minnesota West CTC 89-76 at Anoka-Ramsey’s campus March 3.
Rochester, ranked third in the final national poll of season, moves on to play in the NJCAA Division III National Championship at SUNY-Sullivan Count Community College in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y., March 14-16.
Jason Olson is at [email protected]