The Monroe College Women’s hoopsters (31-6) accomplished a rare athletic feat on Saturday night by winning their second straight national championship The Mustangs defeated Lake Michigan, 78-73, to win Division II of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
Monroe has become a regular participant in the nationals during the past decade. The women played in their ninth straight national and were in the final game for the fifth time since 2005.
The ninth seeded women’s team in the division championship defeated four teams in five days, including the #1 seed in the tourney, the Johnson County Cavaliers, to gain the national title again.
Only one player on the roster, Aivah Parham, returned from last year’s championship squad. Her experience and leadership skills were integral to a team that changed head coaches early in the season. Parham’s on-court ability was also crucial as she was chosen as Region XV Player of the Year. She also led the team in scoring during the regular season.
During the national tournament, the college freshmen and sophomore transfers united with the coaches to rise to the level necessary to achieve their goal of winning the national championship.
An impressive number of the biggest contributors to the squad’s success are natives of Maryland. Tynasha Frazier, the freshman point guard, suffered a torn ACL during the playoffs in New Rochelle. The absence of so key a contributor throughout the season could have destroyed Monroe’s chances of being successful at the national. Kashay Barnes, her partner in the Monroe backcourt and her teammate at Fredrick High School in Maryland stepped up to counter her friend’s absence. She scored in double figures in each of the four games at the national tournament and earned the tournament MVP. Parham from Baltimore also scored in double figures in each of the four contests and was selected to be on the All-Tournament Team. Jasmine McRoy of Geithersberg, MD also proved integral in the guard slot during the tourney as well as throughout the season.
In their opening round game, The Mustangs overcame a double digit deficit to edge the Prairie State Pioneers, 52-49. The Mustangs trailed by a game high deficit of 12 points, with 8:32 left in the first half. Paced by Parham, who scored 12 of her team high 16 points in the second half, Monroe climbed to victory. Parham also grabbed 12 rebounds to achieve a double-double.
The second round challenge for the Mustangs was immense as they faced the Johnson County Community College Cavaliers, the #1 seed. Monroe trailed early in the contest, but with outstanding defense and superiority on the boards triumphed, 64-50. Verdine Warner (6-5) was a factor under the boards with 17 rebounds. Her play during the tournament earned hera place on the All-Tournament Team. The Mustangs held the 31 seed to 22 5 shooting from the floor and prevented 39 of 48 shots from the perimeter from being successful.
Monroe defeated North Carolina’s Louisburg College Hurricanes, 74-69 in the semi-final. The two teams were locked into a tight contest that saw 11 lead changes in the first half. Control of the boards again led to victory for the Mustangs and to their fourth national title game in the past eight years.
Monroe led the Lake Michigan Indians throughout almost all of the championship game. The Indians did not take a lead until 2:24 remained when they led, 71-70. The advantage was immediately overturned and the Mustangs triumphed, 78-73.
Head Coach James Robinson, Jr., who in his first year as head coach led the team to this momentous accomplishment, complimented his players’ faith and courage in achieving their dream, “This championship is about the power of belief, belief in yourself and belief in your teammates. Our players worked as hard as they could to make this happen. They deserve this title and all the accolades they get.”
The Monroe Mustangs men (33-4), like the women, are regulars at the national tourney which they have qualified for in the last three years and in five of the ten years Jeff Brustad has been head coach.
The Mustangs led throughout the first round game against Indian Hills (IA). The full-court press did not stop Monroe scoring as Monroe won, 81-69. Davon Marshall paced the scorers with 34 points, a high for all Monroe players this season.
The victory earned Monroe a second round contest against the #1 ranked team in the nation, South Plains (TX). Monroe led until late in the game when the tide turned against the New Yorkers. After the game was tied at 54, South Plains outscored Monroe 19-6 to earn a 73-60 win. It was one of the rare games this year during which the Mustangs grabbed fewer rebounds and committed more turnovers than their opponent.
Playing their third game in three days, Brustad rested his hard working sophomores and gave his newcomers an opportunity to play against top-notch competition. The plan worked as Monroe defeated Spartanburg Methodist (SC), 67-61. The coach explained his reasoning for the changes, “We play to win and I felt in order to do so, our guys who had given it their all the last two nights had to get a chance to catch their breaths, so we used our depth. It’s also important for all the young men to get a chance to play during the national tournament.”
The contest for fifth place nationally was easily won by Monroe over Columbia State Community College, 79-50. Thus, the seven Monroe sophomores concluded their two years at Monroe with a victory and an impressive season.
Coach Brustad spoke words of tribute to the young men, “Our great sophomores have concluded their careers with a 64-9 overall record and a 6-2 record in the national tournament. You can’t do much better than that. Though we came here to win four games and we only won three, after a Iittle bit of time passes and they move on to bigger and better things, I’m sure they will realize how special it was for them to be Monroe Mustangs.”
The players on both teams returned home with a feeling of accomplishment.