TCC women endures tough schedule to win JUCO national title
By St. Clair Murraine
Early in the season, Coach Franqua Bedell watched his Tallahassee Community College women’s basketball team go through a portion of its schedule playing five games in eight days.
But playing five games in as many days to win a NJCAA? That’s a different set of dynamics. For one thing, a loss could have ended the season.
Bedell harkened back to the stretch of games his team played in a week as the reason the Eagles didn’t flinch in either of the five consecutive games they won to capture the school’s first women’s basketball national title this past weekend in Lubbock, Texas.
“I did that on purpose because I knew that at some point we were going to have to go back, to back to back,” Bedell said Sunday, while the team was taking the journey back to Tallahassee by bus. “Fatigue wasn’t my biggest worry. If we thought about it we would not win.”
The Eagles took the championship by beating Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College 69-51. Trinity Valley is an eight-time winner of the tournament and was heavily favored to repeat one more time.
Instead, TCC has its first national title in any sport since softball won the NJCAA crown in 1994.
“It’s kind of Europhobic,” Bedell said. “You spend five years, even longer than that, dreaming about something of this caliber. Now it’s come true, I’m like Ricky Bobby; I don’t know what to do with my hands.
“I’m still in shock with this team. It’s something unbelievable.”
Perhaps because the Eagles had to beat two familiar foes in defending champions Gulf Coast Community College and Northwest Florida College. Both teams held wins over the Eagles during the regular season.
None of that figured into their games in the tournament, said Nakiah Black, who along with Japonica James and Jamyra McChristine made the all-tournament team. They defeated Gulf Coast by 10 and overcame a 10 point deficit to eliminate Northwest Florida by three points.
“We knew what kind of players we are and we knew what kind of grind and grit we have,” Black said. “We used that to the best of our ability.
“We knew what we were going for. We couldn’t go out there playing strictly off emotion.”
Bedell said his team knew what it was up against when the brackets came out. Anticipating that they’d be playing the entire week, he put together a post-game schedule that called for the team to spend at least 40 minutes stretching.
Being in a late game every night also allowed the players to get plenty of rest, Bedell said.
“Our coaches prepared us well,” said Black, who scored 13 points in the championship game. “In practice they made it a hard environment so that we got used to it. As a team we just rallied together and pushed through.”
The trip to Lubbock was Bedell’s fourth time contending for a national title. In 2006 and 2007 he took teams from Southeastern Illinois and had a third-place finish as his best.
Last year, the Eagles made it to the second round after getting a first-round bye.
This time, he led his team to the championship after having to dismiss Jas Hill, the team’s leading scorer. They didn’t flinch, though.
“Other people step in and said, ‘OK, coach I will do this,’ and then someone said ‘I would do this’ and the next night someone else said ‘I’m going to do this.’
“It was done by committee not just one player. It made us something special and now we are national champions of junior college basketball.”