The Santa Fe College women’s basketball team is back in the state tournament.
The Saints, who finished third in the Central Conference this season at 5-7, earned an at-large berth in the FCSAA/NJCAA Region VIII women’s basketball championships, which begins today in Niceville.
“We’re excited,” said Santa Fe College women’s coach Chanda Stebbins. “I’m excited for this group because prior to COVID-19 we had been like 13 out of 15 years. It’s exciting for us as coaches to go back because this group of players hasn’t been there. It’s just a really, really good experience for kids, like March Madness, and its and opportunity for them to be on a big stage and experience what it’s like to play on.”
To borrow a moniker from March Madness, the No. 8 Saints truly are Cinderella heading into tonight’s game against top seed Eastern Florida State College (6 p.m. CST).
The Titans (28-1) are ranked No. 2 in the country in the NJCAA D-I rankings. They went 12-0 to win the Central Conference.
Their only loss was 60-44 to Shelton State (AL) at the South Georgia Tech holiday classic on New Year’s Day. They’ve won 12 in a row since their only defeat.
“Eastern really ran the table,” Stebbins said. “They’re very, very talented obviously. They haven’t lost to a Florida team yet. They’ve got great athletes. They’ve got great players.”
Sophomore forward L’or Eyeba Mputu, a University of Cincinnati commit, was the conference’s player of the year after averaging 16.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 12 conference games this season.
She’s one of four players who average double figures, along with sophomores Shadaria Smith (11.4 ppg), Leilani Guion (10.7), and freshman Isimenme Ozzy-Momodu (10.6).
As a team, the Titans average 80.1 points per game and they have dominated the competition, giving up an average of just 49.2 points.
SF College had a total of five players receive All-Central Conference honors, led by sophomore Malea Brown.
“This is my second year, and we didn’t go last year, so I’m excited to be able to do it this year and see how far we take it,” said the first-team All-Conference selection.
The sophomore set a new Santa Fe record with 44 points on Feb. 19 in a 68-65 win against St. Petersburg, which is the No. 5 seed in the tournament. She averaged 20.2 points per game, ranking third in the FCSAA and No. 11 in the NJCAA.
“She doesn’t give herself enough credit for how hard she’s worked to really improve her game from last year to this year,” Stebbins said. “She’s been in the gym and really gotten after it. That’s why that step-back three is there. She’s a natural scorer for us and she’s great in anticipating on defense.”
Brown’s 3.5 steals per game leads the FCSAA and ranks No. 11 in the NJCAA in total steals (90).
Sophomore guard Se’Lah Reddick also made the first team after finishing second on the team in scoring (10.4 ppg). She led the team with 3.4 assists per game.
“Great competitor,” Stebbins said. “Leads well, plays hard, can attack the basket left and right, a really good distributor, and she plays really good on the ball defense and encourages her teammates to be a great player.”
Isabella Reynolds, Joey Delancy and Trinity Youngblood, who all made the second team, will also be counted on against the Titans.
The Saints (13-15 overall), who averaged 65.1 points, have won three of their last four games but the one loss was to Eastern Florida State, 86-58, which marked their third loss to the Titans this season.
Stebbins said the keys will be to keep Mputu from getting a double-double, offset their shooting by contesting well enough that they’re not able to get open looks and not give up second-chance rebound points.
“We have some momentum,” Stebbins said. “Hopefully we can play well and give Eastern a run for their money. Every team, it doesn’t matter who it is, every team is beatable. That’s why you play the tournament. That’s the mentality we’re going in with and we’ll see what happens.”
For a bracket and link to watch the game, visit https://nwfraiders.com/tournaments/Region8Tourney