HICKORY, N.C. — The Catawba Valley Community College women's basketball team starts the road to what it hopes will be a Region X tournament championship and first-ever national tournament berth on Thursday at Lenoir Community College in Kinston, N.C.
The second-seeded Red Hawks (25-5, 20-2 in Region X) face No. 10 Fayetteville Tech (8-17, 5-17 in Region X) in the first round of the tournament at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Fifth-year Catawba Valley head women's basketball coach Tisha England is pleased with what her team has done so far this season.
"I'm proud of the CVCC Lady Red Hawks," England said. "They have done an outstanding job this year. I've believed in them from the beginning. We've just got to continue to trust the process. At tournament time, we start back over. It's 0-0. At tournament time, you've got to take it up a notch. We're just trying to stay focused and continue to push forward."
Catawba Valley has been powered this season by a quintet of sophomores, including guards Shaniya Lester, Tory Agrusa and Nikkyana McCaskill and forwards Tanisha Wall and Joyous Wilson.
England met with all five players this past fall before the start of this season and discussed with them what they wanted to achieve in their final year at Catawba Valley.
"They wanted to come back, get better and be the best group that came through CVCC," England said. "Right now, they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are special. They are close to my heart. All student-athletes that come through here I take it personal because they are my children. When they are my children, I love on them, discipline them, throw them down, pick them back up and shake them off — whatever I need to do to get the best out of them. This group have given me everything. They've given me their heart. That's what I've asked for all along is their heart and everything that they have, and they've done that."
Lester, a sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., has led the team consistently in scoring this season. She's averaging 19.6 points per game and recently became the first-ever Red Hawk women's or men's basketball player to surpass 1,000 points scoring in a career.
Despite her individual success, Lester and her fellow sophomores have their eyes on the ultimate prize.
"We all want to get to nationals," Lester said. "I feel like we are actually going to be more focused going into this tournament. It's everybody's goal to get to nationals and give coach England what she hasn't been to yet. I feel like that's what is going to get us there."
Wall, who leads the Red Hawks in rebounding at 8.4 per game and has nine double doubles this season, is excited at the opportunity herself and her teammates have at the Region X tournament.
"I'm ready to play, but I'm anxious," Wall said. "I'm trying to get there so we can get it over with. We want to go to Arkansas."
Wilson has been another force for the Red Hawks in the paint, averaging 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest this season.
The 5-8 Charlotte, N.C. native has seen the development of her team from the start of the season until now.
"We've grown and gotten better, and I feel like we are coming in strong — not with the big head — but just strong," Wilson said. "We're coming in with a new focus because everything is 0-0. We are playing a team for a third time, but it's still 0-0 even if we did beat them. We all have a different mindset because this is for a championship. We all want to win and are going out for one thing."
The Red Hawks' first-round match up is against Fayetteville Tech, which knocked off No. 7 seed Clinton 82-75 in the tournament's play-in round on Monday.
Catawba Valley swept the regular-season series against the Trojans, winning 84-65 on the road on Jan. 20 and 105-39 at home on Feb. 10.
Despite victories in both match ups, CVCC sophomore guard Tory Agrusa and her teammates aren't taking the Trojans lightly.
"We're not putting anything past them," Agrusa said of Fayetteville Tech. "They are a good team. We have to look at that game and then focus on the next game."
A potential win Thursday would advance the Red Hawks to a 4 p.m. semifinal match up on Friday against either No. 3 Louisburg (21-4, 18-4 in Region X) or No. 6 Bryant & Stratton (19-11, 12-10 in Region X).
If the Red Hawks could win that semifinal game and make it to Saturday, they'd compete in the championship game at 2 p.m. — potentially against arch rival and top seed Cape Fear (24-5, 21-1 in Region X). The Red Hawks and Sea Devils split the regular season series.
Despite all of these scenarios, sophomore guard Nikkyana McCaskill isn't looking too far ahead and remains focused on the task at hand.
"If you lose, you go home. If you win, you keep going," McCaskill said. "Right now, we've just got to stay focused, play as a team and everybody has to do their job to win and be successful at the end of the night."
For complete updates from the Region X tournament, be sure to follow @CVCCRedHawks on Twitter and check back with www.gocvcc.com!
2018 Region X tournament schedule
Monday, March 5 (play-in round)
No. 5 Brunswick 68, No. 12 Lenoir 53
No. 10 Fayetteville Tech 82, No. 7 Clinton 75
No. 6 Bryant & Stratton 57, No. 11 Johnston 42
No. 8 Patrick Henry 97, No. 9 Wake Tech 79
Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 8)
No. 4 Guilford Tech vs. No. 5 Brunswick, noon
No. 1 Cape Fear vs. No. 8 Patrick Henry, 2 p.m.
No. 2 Catawba Valley vs. No. 10 Fayetteville Tech, 4 p.m.
No. 3 Louisburg vs. No. 6 Bryant & Stratton, 6 p.m.
Semifinals (Friday, March 9)
Guilford Tech/Brunswick winner vs. Cape Fear/Patrick Henry winner, 2 p.m.
Catawba Valley/Fayetteville Tech winner vs. Louisburg/Bryant & Stratton winner, 4 p.m.
Championship (Saturday, March 10)
Semifinal winners, 2 p.m.