CVCC women’s hoops aims for first national berth

CVCC women’s hoops aims for first national berth

HICKORY, N.C. — After claiming its second-ever regular-season conference championship this winter, the Catawba Valley Community College women's basketball team has its sights set on an even bigger goal — reaching nationals for the first time.

From the early fall to now nearly in the spring, sixth-year CVCC women's basketball head coach Tisha England says her team has grown tremendously.

"Hands down we are definitely a different group from the beginning," she said. "We are just more alert now than we were at the beginning of the season. Now it's the postseason. It's all or nothing. It's as simple as that. We are either going to give our everything or we're going to give nothing at all, but the girls want it. We realize we let the regular season slip away. We're just trying to get that back and win this conference tournament so we can get to nationals."

This season's success for the Red Hawks is somewhat unexpected after losing a solid corps of five sophomores from last season that included the school's all-time leading scorer in Shaniya Lester.

Despite those absences, a veteran group of sophomore transfers and several talented freshmen have helped Catawba Valley repeat its success on the court this winter — going 23-5 overall and 17-3 in Region X play.

"Each year, we have a special group," England said. "The freshmen and sophomores who came in have worked hard. They are hungry. This freshmen group coming in is a little different from last year's group, but at the end of the day, I have high expectations for every team every year. They've met the challenge. Here we are. Look at our record. We did very well."

A lot of the Red Hawks' success on the court this winter can be contributed to sophomore transfer Sherry Johnson — a first-team Region X performer who shattered the CVCC school record for double doubles in a season with 18.

"Sherry has a lot of wisdom," England said. "She came in and wanted to make a difference in the program. I told her what it was going to take to make that difference. She had to come in here and work hard in the classroom as well as on the court, and that's what she has done. She's going to give all that she has every game, every day — day in and day out."

Perhaps the biggest road block standing in the way of CVCC's goal of finally reaching nationals is the loss of freshman guard Ivy Eller, who injured her ankle during the final home game of the season against Louisburg.

Without Eller — the team's third-leading scorer at the time of her injury — the Red Hawks shifted their line up and encountered some struggles, including losing two of the final three games of the season — all of which were on the road.

"Ivy is the heart and gut of the team," England said. "Once we lost Ivy, we went down a little bit, but we had to bounce back up. We had no other choice, but to get ourselves back up and get back into the groove of things. She's a very vital part of our team. Even on the sideline, she makes a big difference. She encourages her teammates, cheering them on and telling them what they are doing right and wrong. We're adjusted now. We've just got to move forward."

By the end of the regular season, the Region X standings featured a three-way tie for first place between Catawba Valley, Cape Fear and Bryant & Stratton and another trio of teams tied for fifth place — Clinton, Wake Tech and USC Salkehatchie.

"(The ties) just let you know how things have went all year long with Region X," England said. "It's a great conference. There are a lot of great student athletes there. It's just anybody's game, anybody's conference and anybody's conference tournament. It's just about who shows up. It's exciting because there's never a dull moment as a coach. It's just exciting to see who shows up and who gives their all."

The Red Hawks' first-round opponent is USC Salkehatchie, who won 86-49 against Fayetteville Tech in the play-in round on Monday night.

Despite sweeping the season series against the Indians, England is taking each postseason game her team plays in stride.

"We just take it one game at a time," she said. "We are just grateful to be in the tournament, period. We just want to give everything that we have and show our CVCC Lady Red Hawk pride. Everyone is 0-0. You can't look at what you've done in the past. You've just got to start out fresh. Every day and every night you have to give it your all. Either you win or go home so we're not looking at the past record because at the end of the day everyone wants to win.'

Reaching nationals are a goal England thinks about all the time, and she shares her passion to reach that goal with her players.

"That is what my heart desires — to get to nationals for CVCC and the program," England said. "It's something I think about on a daily basis. I'm still competitive in everything that I do. That's one thing I look forward to accomplishing. We talk about it every day and what it's going to take to maximize our potential. These young ladies have taken the challenge. They are working hard at looking at the film. They are working hard on the court and trying to adjust from the mistakes that we've made in the past."

As for her team's chances of achieving its ultimate goal, England is confident this group can win three games in three days this week and make program history by reaching the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) DII tournament in Harrison, Ark.

"We can definitely get there," she said. "It's just about putting all of our heads together, believing and getting our heart on one accord, and we'll be there."