After two of the most successful seasons in the history of basketball at Indiana University Northwest, both the men’s and women’s hoops squads are preparing for postseason play.
The Lady RedHawks learned Tuesday that they have been invited to compete at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association “Thunder on the Three Rivers” National Tournament in Uniontown, Pa., starting March 3. The women finished the regular season 13-16 after notching home victories last week over Moody Bible Institute (68-33) and Marygrove College (80-72). The Lady RedHawks were on the bubble for a bid to the national tournament, and their fate depended on the outcome of the Penn State University Athletic Conference Tournament, which Penn State — Beaver needed to win in order for IU Northwest to make the tourney.
The Beavers defeated Penn State Schuylkill 75-58 on Tuesday to secure their conference’s automatic USCAA bid, guaranteeing that the Lady RedHawks and star forward Sharon Houston would travel to Pennsylvania as the 12th seed in the national tournament, which runs from March 3 through March 8.
“Our entire team and coaching staff are very excited about the opportunity to play in the USCAA National Tournament,” Lady RedHawks coach Ryan Shelton said Tuesday after learning of his team’s playoff bid. “The tournament was one of our goals in August. The kids worked extremely hard all year and deserve this opportunity. When you have a team that’s this talented, you never want your season to end. It’s great to know that we’re still playing basketball with the opportunity to win a national championship.”
For the men’s team, which finished the season 17-10 after a home win over Andrews University (93-63) and a road victory over Holy Cross College (95-82) last week. postseason play begins Thursday at home with the first-ever Association of Independent Institutions Men’s Post-Season Tournament. Other competing schools include the Marygrove College Mustags of Detroit, the Holy Cross College Saints of South Bend, and the Johnson and Wales University Wildcats of Denver. The winner of that four-team tournament will earn an automatic bid to the NAIA Division II National Tournament next month in Point Lookout, Mo.
The men will also travel to Uniontown next week for the USCAA’s Men’s Division I National Tournament. In the school’s first year of USCAA membership, the RedHawks earned the sixth seed in that tournament after putting together their most successful season ever.
“Our goal coming into this season was to make it into a postseason tournament,” said men’s coach Pete Trgovich. “Now we have the possibility of playing in two. And the pressure is off of our guys now, because no matter what happens this week, we’re still playing again next week. We’re very happy to be playing under our own hoops this week, and sleeping in our own beds. And our guys don’t have to miss any classes.”
It’s been a wild year for Trgovich and his RedHawks, who overcame some early-season struggles to post the best record in the team’s history. The season highlight, of course, was the team’s incredible 74-73 victory on the road against NCAA Division I Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 22. That win made IU Northwest the team that other NAIA teams want to beat, Trgovich said.
“Everybody wants to beat the team that beat Eastern Kentucky,” he said. “I’ve had other coaches tell me that we spoiled it for everyone else, because everyone’s dream in NAIA is to beat an NCAA D-I team on their own floor. And we did it.”
That sensational victory contributed to what Trgovich said has been a highlight of his long coaching career. Whatever happens in postseason, he said, this season has been one to remember.
“I’m just so proud of everything that these guys have accomplished,” said Trgovich, who won state high school basketball titles as a player and as a coach in East Chicago, and who played on two NCAA national championship teams at UCLA for legendary coach John Wooden. “This has been the most rewarding season of my coaching career.”
IU Northwest, as the second seed, will take the floor on Thursday, Feb. 26, at 6:45 p.m. against Marygrove College in the Savannah Gymnasium. In the early game, Holy Cross College will compete against top-seeded Johnson and Wales University starting at 4:30 p.m. The A.I.I. Tournament championship game will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27.
The USCAA is a national organization that provides quality athletic competition on a regional and national basis for smaller colleges and universities. The USCAA aims to provide opportunities for small schools to compete on an equal playing field against teams and programs of like size.
For more information about IU Northwest athletics, visit the Web at http://www.iun.edu/student-activities/. For more information about the USCAA, visit the Web at http://www.theuscaa.com/.