VCSU women bring experience into second straight NAIA tournament

NAIA Division II Womens
Basketball National Championship
March 7-13, 2012
Tyson Events Center, Sioux City, Iowa

No. 8 seeded Valley City State starts play Thursday at 1:45 p.m. against No. 1 seeded College of the Ozarks.

Games can be viewed for a small fee at
There will be a local viewing party Thursday at the Valley City Town and Country Club, hosted by the VCSU Century Club and also at Pizza Corner.

By Scott Schlaufman
At this time last year, the Valley City State University basketball team was getting ready to make history as the first to visit the NAIA Division II Womens Basketball National Championship tournament.
Fast forward to Monday, the Vikings gathered in the lobby of the W. E. Osmon Fieldhouse, where VCSU athletes and fans had congregated. After quick speeches by VCSU president Steve Shirley, Athletic Director Jack Denholm and coach Jill DeVries, the team went out the door and was once again bound for Sioux City, Iowa, to compete for a national title.
By default, this year’s team has something last year’s didn’t — experience.
Not only are DeVries and her staff going in knowing what to expect, but the team has three players — guard Courtney Titus, post player Brittany Lehner, and injured post player Mandi Bindas — who took the trip last season.
“This week we’ve just been preparing, knowing how it goes,” Titus said. “It’s so much different than a normal game you play, just in terms of warming up and getting the most shots we can before the game, or playing the waiting game before getting on the floor,
“It’s nice that Brittany and Mandi and I have been there before so we know what to expect.”
The Vikings, one of four eighth seeds, start the single-elimination tournament Thursday at 1:45 p.m. against College of the Ozarks, a No. 1 seed.
It’s a leadership role that DeVries has seen the trio step into lately, helping educate the younger players on just what to expect. It’s a benefit that’s complemented by the coaching staff, who also went in last year without experience.
“When it’s your first time, you don’t know how things work either, and now we do, and I think that gives us a little better feel for how we’re going to prepare to win our ball game on Thursday,” DeVries said.
It’s a matchup that looks to be tough.
The Bobcats are ranked third in the nation and enter the tournament on a 20-game win streak. The last time the team lost was Dec. 30.
The team largely rides offensively on the scoring of post player Morgan Smith, who averages nearly 20 points per game and was a second-team All American last year. Smith is complemented by Maranda Vaught, who averages just-over nine points per game and several teammates who average seven per game.
DeVries said her team will need to limit Smith’s touches and keep offensive rebounds to a minimum to succeed.
“They know when she catches it, she’s going to put it up, so they really crash hard and I think we’re going to have to do a good job of keeping them off the offensive boards.”
DeVries predicted the game could be a defensive battle. The Bobcats average 57 points allowed per game and VCSU averages 58.
That said, the Vikings have shown plenty of character throughout the season.
The team started 3-7, but got back to 15-9 entering Dakota Athletic Conference play.
The Vikings then lost their first four DAC games, and were on the verge of missing the Association of Independent Institution conference tournament. Wins over Dickinson State University and Mayville State University got the team into the A.I.I. tournament.
The Vikings beat Dakota State University in the first round of the DAC tournament, then clinched a national berth by beating Jamestown College 61-45 in the DAC semifinals. It was the Vikings only win in four games against the Jimmies.
“I think people probably counted them out about a month ago and they did what they needed to do,” DeVries said. “They really earned their trip.”
Titus said the late-season play was a necessity.
“It really just came down to knowing that we had to get it done,” she said. “There really wasn’t anything more we could say. We just knew we had to practice hard.”
Titus also said the win against Jamestown helped get the team in a proper mindset for the tournament.
“We had to play a tough game to beat Jamestown to get our berth to the tournament, so we know it’s the same thing and it’s going to be the same thing every night,” she said. “We know we have to bring our best game.”
While Titus said the team is excited to go back, the returning players have some unfinished business.
“It’s exciting this year,” she said, “but now I want that win.
“I want to be there longer than just the one day.”