Mesa Women's Basketball Completes Fabulous Season
Simply put, it was the greatest season in Mesa women’s basketball history, and one of the finest ever in all sports.
The Thunderbirds finished second in the nation in NJCAA Division II competition with an unlikely run through the national championship tournament, completed by an extremely young group which fashioned a final 27-7 record.
Seventh-year coach Kori Stevenson, and assistants Sam Stevens and Ben Nelson, had only three players returning from a year ago when they greeted their 2012-13 team in the fall. Although the 2011-12 squad had captured fifth place in the NJCAA event, it was heavily dominated by sophomores.
Stevenson, however, was still confident in her team’s chances entering the current season.
“I thought we could win the Region,” she said, “But I never thought we could go this far.”
En route to their outstanding national finish, the T-Birds did not lose a single game to Division II competition until the final loss to Louisburg (N.C.) in the NJCAA tournament. In fact, Mesa played 12 of its 34 contests against Division I teams and won half of those, including victories over some top-flight competition.
With four freshmen and one sophomore starting on a regular basis, MCC quickly shot to the top of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC) Division II standings and won the regular season crown by a full four games.
The clincher came in a thrilling, 86-81, double overtime thriller against nemesis Pima C.C. in Theo Heap Gym. Those two team have played in each of the last four Region I championship games, with MCC capturing the last two.
The Regional, played once again at home, brought out the largest, most energetic crowd in several years as MC-TV broadcast to Cox Cable subscribers all over Maricopa County.
With Peace Amukamara (Fr., Goodyear, AZ/Millennium H.S.) scoring 13 points and Mariah Willadsen (Fr., Mesa, AZ/Red Mountain H.S.) adding 12, the T-Birds overcame a very slow start and won a berth in the NJCAA national tournament with a 58-43 victory.
When the 16-team tournament bracket was announced, Mesa was the No. 1-seeded team and proceeded to defeat No. 16 North Platte (Neb.), 63-35; two-time defending national champion Monroe (N.Y.), 53-50 and fourth-seeded St. Clair County (Mich.), 64-54, before falling to second seeded Louisburg, 75-65.
The Thunderbirds garnered numerous post-season honors.
Madi Austin (Fr., Scottsdale, AZ/Horizon H.S.) was chosen first team all-region and second team all-ACCAC. The latter includes the conference’s Division I schools as well as Division II.
Willadsen was first team all-region and third team all-conference, while Amukamara was second team all-region and third team all-ACCAC.
Austin, Leslie Tademy (Fr., Phoenix, AZ/South Mountain H.S.) and Nikki Tsosie (So., Chinle, AZ/Chinle H.S.) were all-named to the NJCAA all-tournament team.
Already looking forward to 2013-14, Stevenson says the group of new players she has recruited should fit perfectly with the large corps of returners she should have and dreams of an even bigger future.