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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Mayville State heads to nationals

FARGO — A season ago, a trip to the NAIA Division II women’s basketball tournament made history. Now, it’s becoming habit for the Comets.

“You are trying to change the culture of the program and you are trying to develop tradition,” said Comets head coach Dennis Hutter, who led his team to its first-ever national tournament appearance last season.

Mayville State (24-3) will be making its second consecutive national tournament appearance, playing Cornerstone University (Mich.) at 10:15 a.m. Thursday in the opening round in Sioux City, Iowa. The Comets earned a No. 3 seed.

“We were just excited to have the season we were having,” Hutter said. “This year it was more business-like. We have more of a quiet confidence this season.”

The Comets have won 19 of their past 20 games heading into nationals, including an 82-73 victory against the University of Jamestown in the North Star Athletic Association tournament championship game.

Mayville State, ranked No. 11, made the national tournament via an at-large bid since the NSAA tournament winner didn’t earn an automatic bid with five teams in the conference. Next year the league will have an automatic bid when it grows to six teams with the addition of Dickinson State.

No. 3-ranked Jamestown (26-3) also earned an at-large bid to the national tournament.

“Forty percent of our league is in the national tournament,” said Hutter, who was named NSAA coach of the year. “We’re a young league and we’re trying to establish credibility, a reputation, around the country.”

Senior center Marcisa McMillan has had a strong season for the Comets, averaging 18.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-2 McMillan was named to most valuable player in the NSAA. Due to injury, McMillan didn’t play in two of Mayville State’s losses that came early in the season.

Senior guards Hailey Longtin and Samantha Heier, sophomore guard Liza Hoglo and senior forward Angela Tauer join McMillan in the starting lineup. Longtin (16.6 points per game) and Hoglo (15.0) each average double digits in scoring. Junior guard Sabrina Rude is scoring 14.1 points per game off the bench.

“We are very up-tempo. We push the ball hard. We are very aggressive,” Hutter said. “We like to shoot the ball.”

Hutter said a goal for his team is to attempt 35 shots from the 3-point line each game. That in turn opens the lane for McMillan to score on the inside.

The Comets are shooting 38 percent (310 of 816) from 3-point range. They lead the country in 3-point shooting percentage. Mayville State is averaging 11.5 3-point makes per game.

“Our chemistry is great. We have a family-type atmosphere with our program,” said Hutter, who is in his eighth season. “We have a great bunch of kids who love to play and love the team.”

Jimmies earn a top seed

University of Jamestown head coach Greg Ulland, a former UND assistant, put together a tough schedule, and that helped his team earn a No. 1 seed in the national tournament.

“We put together a monster schedule and fortunately we won a lot of those games,” Ulland said.

The Jimmies have seven victories against Top 25 teams this season. Their three losses came against teams ranked in the Top 15, including two against Mayville State.

Jamestown plays Roosevelt (Ill.) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round at nationals.

“Our mentality is we want to go down there and win the whole thing,” Ulland said. “Now we’ve got to go out and execute for five games, and we need a little luck.”

The Jimmies feature solid depth with 12 players who average at least 10 minutes per game. Jamestown has three players who average in double digits scoring, including senior point guard Hannah Steele, who leads the team with 14.4 points per game. The 5-foot-4 Steele also averages 6.2 assist per game. She ranks third in the nation in assists per game.

“She can get to the basket whenever she wants,” Ulland said. “She has great court vision. She handles the ball well.”

Ulland hopes his team’s depth can help the Jimmies make a deep run at nationals. That depth has also made practices more competitive.

“It raises their level because they know they can’t take a practice off. They can’t take a play off,” Ulland said. “We never seem to waver. That is one thing I like about this group.”

Quite the sendoff

Mayville State left for the NAIA Division II national women’s basketball tournament Monday afternoon.

Before the team left, however, a send-off celebration was held for the Comets, which also included a phone-a-thon to raise money.

KMAV Radio in Mayville ran the two-hour fund-raising event, which included player interviews.

When the team boarded the bus for Sioux City, Iowa, in the afternoon, the telethon had rasied $3,120.

“Everything helps,” said Mayville coach Dennis Hutter. “We want to give our kids the best experience possible.”

The Comets, along with other tournament teams, will take part in a Special Olympics event today and are scheduled to attend the tournament banquet tonight.

Mayville is making its second-straight trip to the nationals.

Mayville loses seven seniors but still will return a handful of players with considerable experience next season.

“We want to continue to make this an annual event,” said Hutter.