Teton men, women a game away from NJCAA tournament

It’s an all-too-familiar spot for the Williston State men’s and women’s basketball teams.

The Tetons have typically fared well in their Region XIII tournaments, only to hit an NJCAA national tourney roadblock in the form of a district title game.

This week they’ll both be looking to buck the trend and capture those elusive berths.

WSC’s 23rd-ranked women’s team (29-3) travels to Chicago on Saturday to take on Malcolm X College (21-5) in a winner-to-nationals game at 3 p.m. The men (25-8), play host to fourth-ranked Iowa Western (30-2) on Thursday at 7 p.m.

By happenstance, the women earned themselves a mulligan from last season’s ill-fated finish.

A year ago Malcom X made the trek to Williston and erased a late deficit to knock off the Tetons 53-52.

The team’s season motto “Unfinished Business” was derived from the setback

“Having gone through that, I think we’re a more determined team this year,” Williston post Maggie Lorenz said. “We knew we were the better team, and hopefully we can prove it this time.”

Three years ago the Tetons were able to reach the national tournament annually hosted in Salinas, Kan., but have fallen short the last two seasons.

An experienced, North Dakota-rich roster has proven to be a boon for the Tetons this year, though.

The Tetons’ frontcourt is paced by Lorenz (16 ppg), a Harvey graduate, Kenmare alum Katie King (10 ppg) and Williston High product Jackie Lee (10 ppg).

Region XIII MVP Jazzmine Robinson from Las Vegas leads their backcourt, but the Division I recruit is aided by Watford City’s Marti Quale (6.5 ppg) and Washburn’s Samantha Schell (6.9 ppg).

King feels fortunate to be on a team littered with local talent.

“It’s nice to be on a team with girls you played with or heard of in high school,” King said.

Lorenz agreed.

“It’s good to have a hometown, North Dakota feeling,” Lorenz said.

It’s been seven years since Williston State’s men have reached the Hutchinson, Kan., men’s tournament, but they’ve had their chances.

Two years ago the Tetons lost by a bucket in a district title game to Southeastern Iowa. In 2010, the Tetons fell to the same team in triple overtime.

Now first-year coach Eric Peterson, who was named the Region XIII coach of the year, has a sizable task ahead of him as he tries to get past one of the best teams in the country.

Iowa Western has fallen just twice, with both losses coming at the hands of top-ranked Indian Hills. Even if Iowa Western falls to the Tetons, it’ll likely secure one of the tournament’s at-large bids.

Williston State’s resume doesn’t warrant an at-large berth, so it’s do or die for the Tetons.

“(Iowa Western) is very athletic,” Peterson said. “They already have a bid, so we’re just hoping they take us lightly and they catch us on a good night.”

Peterson likes the fact that he’s at home. The Tetons were able to knock off No. 13 North Idaho College – a team with Oregon and Boise State signees and a grip of other Division I recruits – at home in November.

“Being at home is huge,” Peterson said. “They’ll have that 13-14 hour trip and we’ve lost here just twice.”

The Tetons have been led the past two years by 6-foot-4 guard Marquel Curtis, who recently took a recruiting trip to the University of Tulsa. But the Region XIII tournament MVP will need help if WSC hopes to get to nationals.

“I think they’ll do a good job covering Curtis,” Peterson said. “It’ll be a matter of how our other players step up.”