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Tom Miller and Eric Peterson / Forum News Service, Published March 04 2013

Comets makes history with programs first-ever NAIA D-II tourney berth

GRAND FORKS – The Mayville State women’s basketball team didn’t go into the NAIA Division II national tournament the easy way.

The Comets lost to Valley City State in the Association of Independent Institutions tournament semifinals and were forced to wait more than four days to find out their postseason fate.

Either way, Mayville State is making history.

The Comets (20-5) received an at-large bid into the national tournament, the program’s first-ever national appearance.

The tournament begins for Mayville on Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. in Sioux City, Iowa, against Northwestern of Iowa.

The Comets, who peaked at No. 15 in the national polls before finishing just outside the top 25, are the No. 7 seed in their bracket, while Northwestern is No. 2 and the three-time defending national champion.

“They’re going to be a handful,” Mayville State coach Dennis Hutter said. “But we like to think we can be a handful, too.”

After losing to Valley City State in the A.I.I tournament, the Comets had uneasy moments scoreboard watching.

“We knew there was somewhat of a chance,” Hutter said. “We had our eyes on three games that we figured we needed. All three went our way. Wednesday, we finally got the call that we were in.”

Hutter had scheduled a team meeting for last Wednesday at 5 p.m. The gathering would either stand as the end of the year meeting or another practice.

“They were pretty excited,” Hutter said. “We talked a lot about this – leaving a legacy. One way to do that is to do something that’s never been done before.”

Mayville State’s rise to the national tournament has been keyed by the addition of 6-foot-2 junior center Marcisa McMillan, who joined the program this season. McMillan, who averages 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds, was named the A.I.I. player of the year.

“She’s been the difference for us,” Hutter said. “She’s made a big difference inside both offensively and defensively.”

McMillan joins a group of 3-point shooters. The Comets, which don’t have a senior on the roster, jack up more than 28 three-pointers per game.

Hailey Longtin, a 5-foot-5 guard from Walhalla, N.D., averages 15.6 points, while Sabrina Rude of McVille, N.D., averages 12.2 points.

Liza Hoglo, a Thief River Falls, Minn., native and former UND walk-on, averages nine points a game.

“This team has talked about the national tournament all year long,” Hutter said. “We had a road map in the locker room and marked off destinations that we’ve gone to. We’ve really been focused on this road to the national tournament.”

Vikings making nationals a habit

FARGO – Playing in the national tournament is becoming habit for the Valley City State women’s team.

The Vikings (24-7) earned their third consecutive trip to the national tournament with a second-place finish in the A.I.I. tournament, to garner and automatic bid.

“It’s a big deal for our program,” said VCSU head coach Jill DeVries, who is in her 14th season. “It says a lot about the kids in our program.”

No. 6 seed VCSU plays No. 3 seed Bethel (Ind.) at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the first round.

The Vikings also set a program record for wins in a season this winter. They had 10 returning players from last year’s team, providing a strong nucleus to build around.

“They have grown up,” DeVries said “They have matured.”

Junior forward Brittany Lehner (Watertown, S.D.), paces a balanced lineup. The 5-foot-10 Lehner leads the team with 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

The Vikings will be without senior guard Katelyn Ralston (Dahlen, N.D.), who suffered a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago. That is where the VCSU depth has been vital.

The Vikings go as many as 11 players deep.

“We have more depth this year so that is going to help us hopefully,” DeVries said.

Senior center Alyssa Hummel (West Fargo), senior forward Courtney Titus (Hankinson, N.D.), sophomore guard Sadiqah Jihad (Minneapolis) and sophomore guard Stephanie Pedersen (Mandan, N.D.), are slated to join Lehner in the starting lineup at nationals.

VCSU has eight players who are averaging at least four points per game.

“That is how we are,” DeVries said of the spread out scoring. “That is who we are.”

Peterson writes for The Forum

Miller writes for The Grand Forks Herald