There was a point this season that the Iowa Central women could have given up.
Sitting at 4-7 and facing a long road trip to play Southeastern, the Tritons found something that allowed them to reel off seven consecutive wins on their way to claiming a bid to nationals.
Iowa Central begins play Thursday in the NJCAA Div. II National Tournament in Hickory, North Carolina. The Tritons advanced to the quarterfinals after Macomb was unable to participate.
"I look back to that trip to Southeastern as the turning point," Iowa Central head coach Brian Ortmeier said. "We were facing a long trip and staying overnight in a hotel the night before. There were a lot of things that could deter our focus, but we threw on a press to try something a little different to get our kids more focused, more engaged, and we jumped on them 18-0.
"From that point, they believed they could play defense and that really started it all."
The Tritons scored four road wins during that run and topped Des Moines Area, Iowa Lakes, Southwestern and Northeast. That allowed them to secure the No. 3 seed for regionals and a future date with the Bears, who they topped in Boone to win the tournament title and automatic bid.
Iowa Central held its final eight opponents under 70 points, with only Kirkwood posting a victory. The Eagles are the No. 1 seed at nationals.
"From the NBA to Div. I college basketball, all you hear is the pace, the tempo of games, teams scoring 100 points," Ortmeier said. "Everybody wants to emulate that style. We all watched as the (Golden State) Warriors stretched teams shooting the 3. But that saying of offense sells tickets, defense wins championships, we bought into that.
"By getting them to believe in that process, it really made a huge different for us."
"With Bell and Nevaeh, we know what we are going to get from them night in and night out," Ortmeier said. "But just like the girls buying into what we wanted to do on defense, all of them having that confidence to step up and produce has made us a different team.
"When you have three, four or five girls on the court that all feel like they can get the job done, you are difficult to defend."
Ortmeier, who is in his first season at Iowa Central, will be making his debut at the national tournament as a coach.
"For me, the coolest thing has been watching the growth from the first half of the season to the second," he said. "Coming together as a team, playing for each other as a team; that has been a really fun experience to be part of. That's what got us to this point and it's just been a really special process."
-By Dana Becker