After 24 long years, the Blinn Buccaneers' 12-hour drive to Salina, Kan. for the NJCAA Women's Basketball National Championship passed in the blink of an eye.
Blinn, the runner-up at the Region XIV Conference Tournament and one of four at-large bids to the national tournament, will play Kaskaskia (Ill.) in the first round of the national tournament at noon Monday at the Bicentennial Center. The game marks Blinn's first national appearance since 1989 and will be broadcast on NJCAA TV.
The Buccaneers enter the tournament as the ninth seed after going 30-3 this season. All three losses – including one overtime contest – came against Trinity Valley, the defending national champion and No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
"We've already seen the best in the country, so we shouldn't be nervous," said Jeff Jenkins, who became the winningest coach in program history earlier this season. "Not only is every night in our league tough, but we've played tough non-conference competition and we've seen a lot of different styles. We know we can play with anybody."
The Buccaneers burst onto the national scene after winning their first 16 games this season. Sophomore forward Audrisa Harrison leads the team with 15.8 points per game, and freshman forward Fatima Adams has averaged 12.7 points. Sophomore guard Jazzmin Parker has also reached double digits with 11.1 points per game, and freshman guard Moe Bedford has tallied 8.5 points per game.
Harrison leads the team with 10.4 rebounds per game and Adams averages 8.8. Sophomore guard Aarika Reyna averages a team-high 3.7 assists per game.
The Buccaneers, who average 77.6 points per game, advanced to the finals of the Region XIV Conference championships by defeating Paris and Jacksonville before falling to Trinity Valley.
"This team just finds ways to win," Jenkins said. "They've been in a lot of close games and for the most part they've been able to pull it out this season. We have talented players who can score and we have really good depth."
Blinn takes on a balanced Kaskaskia squad that includes four players averaging more than 11 points per game. Sophomore guard Miranda Burroughs leads the way with 12.2 points per game, followed by freshman guard Alex Stanford (11.9), sophomore forward Adrina LaVern (11.7) and sophomore guard Brandi Riddle (11.3).
"They shoot and make a lot of threes," Jenkins said. "Our guards will have to do a good job of defending them all."