DANVILLE — Schools like Mott Community College, Monroe Community College and Penn Valley are almost expected to be playing in this week’s NJCAA Division II National Championship at the Mary Miller Gymnasium on the campus of Danville Area Community College.
Instead, this year’s tournament features six schools that have never appeared in the Division II National Tournament and when it’s all said and done on Saturday, one of these 16 teams will become a first-time National Champion.
“This isn’t the Mott Invitational this year,’’ said the very outspoken John Pigatti, the head coach of South Suburban College, who had done his research to discover that fact. “I think it’s very, very exciting for the teams that are here. It just shows how very, very hard it is to get a team into this National Tournament.’’
Essex County Coach Corey Lowery, whose team is one of four that played in last year’s National Tournament, summed it up best.
“This is a tournament of champions,’’ he said, noting that all 16 teams in this week’s tournament got here by winning. There are no at-large bids in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
“It’s hard to beat champions,’’ he said as his Wolverines have lost all four of their previous games in the tournament.
South Suburban has made the most appearances as the Bulldogs will be playing in their eighth National Tournament, but Pigatti doesn’t think really matters all that much.
“This is about the players,’’ he said. “For the most part, every team in this tournament has a brand-new set of players this year.’’
After South Suburban’s eight appearances, the next most belongs to the Phoenix College Bears. Coach Matt Gordon, who has led his team here six different times, said the key is enjoying this experience.