‘We wanted to make a statement’: How MCC’s women’s basketball team got to the national tourney

Update, March 27: While the Wolves fell short in their efforts to bring home a national championship, Interim Women’s Head Coach Marcus Harvey did receive two honors. He was named Coach of the Year for NJCAA Region 16, Division II in women’s basketball.  He was also named Coach of the Year for NJCCA District P. Congratulations, Coach Harvey!  We are #MCCProud of  you and your team.

Wolves Coach Marcus Harvey receives one of his two Coach of the Year awards.

Update, March 21: Despite a fourth-quarter rally, the Wolves lost to Wayne County Community College (Detroit area) 75-73 today at the national NJCAA basketball tourney. The MCC women ended their 2018-19 season with a 17-11 record. We’re #MCCProud of you!

Update, March 19: The Wolves lost to Cape Fear Community College 91-55 at the NJCAA Division II national tournament in Arkansas today. But MCC isn’t out of it yet. The team will now move to the consolation bracket, playing at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 21, against Wayne County Community College (Michigan). The tourney continues through Saturday, March 23. #MCCProud

By David Boyce

On a sunny, pleasant Saturday morning, officials and volunteers gathered outside the Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley campus in midtown for a St. Patrick’s Day 5K run near the campus.

Inside the Penn Valley gymnasium, nine women basketball players were already running hard, doing layup and shooting drills in preparation for their spot in the NJCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament in Harrison, Arkansas. (The Wolves play in Game 3 of the national tourney at 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, against Cape Fear Community College of Wilmington, North Carolina. Find the bracket and more at njcaa.org/sports/wbkb/2018-19/div2/national_championship/index.)

The 2018-19 MCC Wolves women’s basketball team

“It is pretty exciting,” said sophomore Kassidy Snowden. “Last year we didn’t make it out of district so this year it is kind of like a surreal feeling. I am still trying to rein in that we are going to nationals.”

Oh, it is real and exhilarating for everybody involved in MCC’s women’s basketball program. This is the first year that all five MCC campuses combined into one entity; all the athletic teams are now known as the MCC Wolves. In years past, each campus had its own mascot. The men’s and women’s basketball teams are still based at MCC-Penn Valley, but students attending other MCC campuses can also try out.

Even though the former Penn Valley women’s basketball program made it to nationals five previous times and were runner-up in 1998 and 2002, the 2018-19 Wolves are making new history.

“We wanted to make a statement and bring some good things to the community,” said sophomore Tya Bell.

It was easy to understand why the Wolves were so energetic that Saturday morning as they went through one of their last workouts before departing the following day, March 17, for Arkansas.

Metropolitan Community College, 17-9, is taking an eight-game winning streak into its first-round game against Cape Fear, 25-4, at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Pioneer Pavilion.

One person who is not a stranger to the national tournament is men’s basketball coach Marcus Harvey, who also became the women’s interim head coach at midseason. Harvey previously guided the women’s program to the other five national tournament appearances.

When Harvey took over this season, the Wolves were 7-7.

“I think it is because he is so laid back,” said sophomore Octavia Lowery on the success under Harvey. “You are not afraid to mess up because when you do, he teaches how to do it right. It’s things like that. He trusts you to go in the game and play like you know how to play and be the person you know how to be. It was an easy transition for everybody.”

Harvey quickly deflects any praise and gives it to the players and assistant coach Larry Bosch, who has been with the team for three years. Harvey points out the chemistry was already there from the sophomores, and the team played well early in the season. They just happened to play ranked teams and came up a little short.

After an 89-72 loss at St. Louis Community College on Jan. 26, the Wolves realized they could play better.

“We kind of all focused in because we knew we could beat that team, but it just got away from us,” Lowery said. “We started practicing harder and getting our plays down.”

Eight wins later, including a win over St. Louis, the Wolves are at nationals with a winning attitude.

“They are playing together,” Bosch said. “They are coming to practice, staying focused and working hard. These girls know what we want them to do. They really played hard last year. And this year they have added to it and have done a really good job.”

Indeed.

“At midseason, we started playing team ball and nobody was focusing on their individual stats,” said sophomore Kaylee Vantrump. “It is when we started our winning streak. This year it seems like we clicked a lot better and everyone enjoyed it as much as putting in the hard work.”

A perfect example of the unselfish play occurred in the 80-65 win over North Arkansas that propelled the Wolves into the national tournament. Lowery scored 2 points while Bell had 24 and Snowden and Vantrump each had 21. Overall, Lowery leads the team in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game.

“When you are hot and hitting shots, we are not selfish,” Lowery said. “We will pass it to you. A person can score 30 points one night and two the next because they are passing. That is why we don’t fight because we are not selfish.”

And that togetherness has allowed the Wolves to accomplish something special.

“It is super cool and an honor to put us on the map,” Lowery said. “It is nice after all the hard work you put in, to finally get somewhere.”

The Wolves’ 2018-19 schedule: njcaa.org/sports/wbkb/2018-19/div2/schedule?teamId=tinqg7uab55wiul7