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Kirkwood plants 'seeds' for defense

March 19, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Women's junior college basketball unveils a first in what will be its last year at Hagerstown Community College today.

The National Junior College Athletic Association will give its Division II tournament an NCAA flavor by seeding eight of the 12 teams in the championship bracket when it opens its tournament today at the HCC athletic complex. It will be the swan song for the nationals at HCC as its contract to host the event ends this year.

And HCC ends its reign as Division II's focal point with a number of familiar faces and perennial teams returning to vie for the 2003 title, including defending national champion Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College.

"It's fun coming back here, but we've had to take a different road to get here," Kirkwood coach Kim Muhl said. "It's always tough to come back. There are a lot of teams that are back, but that shows there are good coaches at those schools and they have strong women's basketball programs."

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To reward the stronger teams and give some semblance of consistency and excitement to the tournament, the NJCAA elected to start a seeding process for the double-elmination format. That's a tough proposition, considering the teams in the field have won eight of the last 11 national titles.

"It really helps," said Brian Beck, HCC athletic director and tournament director. "We have a good number of good quality teams and a lot of times, with a blind draw, we end up having the No. 1 and the No. 3 teams in the country playing in the first round and it changes the tournament quickly."

After the 12 qualifiers were announced a four-member panel reviewed the teams, comparing records, strength of schedule and conference and where the teams that qualified last year finished in the field to create the seeding scale.

The top four seeds - Illinois Central, Phoenix (Ariz.), Kirkwood and Monroe (N.Y.) - received byes into the second round. The next four seeds - Kankakee (Ill.), Redlands (Okla.), Mitchell (Conn.) and CCAC-Allegheny (Pa.), which is representing the local region - were reverse seeded into the first-round bracket.

The four remaining teams - Sinclair (Ohio), Northwest-Shoals (Ala.), Owens (Ohio) and Bismarck State (N.D.) were randomly selected as first-round opponents to the bottom seeds.

"We talked about seeding last year," Muhl said. "Something had to be done. There had to be some kind of criteria. Maybe somewhere down the line, there might be some at-large bids into the tournament to make it 16 teams."

Kirkwood returns four sophomores from last year's championship team, which defeated Penn Valley (Mo.) in the final. Guard Megan Ripperton, who was selected to the 2002 all-tournament team, returns for the Eagles (30-4).

But defending the title is a whole different animal for Muhl, who not only has a different cast to work with but very little knowledge of the teams Kirkwood will face. The Eagles open play Thursday at 6 p.m. against the winner of today's Redlands-Owens game.

"On this level there isn't a lot of film to watch," Muhl said. "It's how you play at this time of year. It's hard to know about all the teams. I know about some of them from our area. You just throw yourself into the mix. You can only prep your teams so much for tendencies and get the main points out there for them to know between games."

Scouting gives way to talent and stamina in the grueling four-day tournament, mixed in with a few other factors along the way.

"I think you need breaks and you have to stay healthy to win this tournament," Muhl said. "There are so many variables that come into play, but you have luck and have to have players step up and make some plays. We had that last year, and usually it isn't always one of the players who you have counted on during the season."

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