You can set your clock to it. In the third week of March, once again the Monroe Mustangs women's basketball team will play in the national tournament. With Saturday's 76-69 semifinal win over Harcum in the District N-O tournament and 78-64 victory over CCRI in the District final, the Mustangs clinched their 10th consecutive appearance in the NJCAA women's basketball national championships. It's a remarkable legacy that speaks to quality coaching and recruiting, player talent and dedication, and a college-wide commitment to success, the hallmark of Monroe College for the last 80 years.
And the Mustangs haven't been satisfied with just participating in the nationals, they have come to play... and win. In the nine previous years - six in Division III and three in Division II - they've won four national championships, were finalists once and semifinalists twice. In fact, as they prepare for their 2013 run, they are two-time defending national champs and the only team to play in the last four DII nationals. Regardless of where they're seeded in this year's tournament - on the heels of an up-and-down 22-8 record in 2012-13, it might not be too high - by virtue of their legacy, they have to be acknowledged as a contender.
"I won't be thinking much of the big picture or the long-term implications until the end of the month, because right now we have work to do," said coach James Robinson Jr. who has been on the Mustangs staff for six of the trips to the dance. He was the head coach for last year's national title and an assistant on two other championships.
"I remind our athletes time and again that what we have here at Monroe is not just a team, but a PROGRAM, and a lot of our success can be traced to the support we get from the college, administrators, faculty, the medical staff, and even the student body, our fans who come to support us, just like they did when they came to Pennsylvania on Saturday."
Saturday's game was the key because two teams from this District tournament qualify for the nationals. When the game against Harcum began, it didn't look like the Mustangs would need much help as their fast-break attack and swarming defense jumped them out to a 13-2 lead. But like the roller coaster ride that has characterized some of this season, the Mustangs couldn't maintain their prosperity and through a myriad of turnovers and poor decisions on the offensive end, they let Harcum back into it and the Bears led by a point with 4:24 to go in the first half.
But true-to-form, Coach Robinson was able to do tap into one of the luxuries that has sustained the Mustangs over the last decade; he turned to his deep bench and it was the third stringers, led by Marisa McCabe, Jet'e Griffin, and Nikia Richardson, who righted the ship, turning a 17-7 run and sending Monroe into half time leading by 9, 41-32.
In the second half the pattern repeated itself with Monroe relinquishing a big lead, but this time it was the more familiar names of Ashley Castle, Brianna Perlmutter, and Jasmine McRoy who led the charge to the 76-69 win and tenth trip to the nationals.
Danielle Forrest led Monroe with 16 points, Castle had 15, and Perlmutter 13 points and nine rebounds. Tiara Brown was a force all weekend with 23 points (18 points, 14 rebounds on Sunday) and 22 rebounds in the two games.
Monroe commanded Sunday's final against CCRI a touch more convincingly and came away with their third District title in their four Division II years. McRoy had 13 points and seven rebounds and Perlmutter had 12 points.
Monroe will open play in the NJCAA Division II National Championships in Peoria, IL sometime on Tuesday, March 19. The time of the first game will be determined as soon as the seedings are set. The entire tournament will be webcast.
Women's basketball schedule