Triton women advance to nationals

KEOKUK – Craig Carlson’s 200th victory as head coach of the Iowa Central women’s basketball program won’t soon be forgotten.

The third-seeded Tritons (24-8 overall) stunned No. 1 seed and seventh-ranked Kirkwood by a 71-65 count in the NJCAA Div. II Region XI Tournament championship game Saturday afternoon, earning their fourth-ever trip to nationals.

Prior to this season, Iowa Central’s other national tournament appearances came in 1987, ’00 and ’11. The Tritons placed fourth on the big stage two years ago.

“I’m just tremendously proud of our team,” Carlson said. “To beat No. 12 (Des Moines Area) and No. 7 (Kirkwood) on back-to-back nights, and to get out of what I consider the toughest region in the United States, just shows that we came out ready to play.

“Our kids bought in despite things not looking so great early in the season. I feel like we can compete with anybody right now.”

Miliakere Koyamainavure paced Iowa Central with 16 points, while Theresa Doyle (St. Edmond) contributed 12 and Babaye Oja and Jasmine Binion each added nine. Oja also grabbed 12 rebounds, and Koyamainavure pulled down eight boards.

“Doyle hit four threes for the second night in a row, and Koyamainavure went 10-for-13 at the free-throw line,” said Carlson. “Those two really stepped up their games for us this weekend.”

Trailing by seven points with around 14 minutes remaining in the contest, the Tritons reeled off an 18-0 burst and held on from there. Despite posting their sixth straight triumph and avenging two previous setbacks to Kirkwood, Iowa Central went just 14-for-26 at the charity stripe.

Kianna Jacobs (16), Alexis Fitzpatrick (15) and Whitney Rohrbach (13) all scored in double figures for the Eagles (28-5), who fell for only the second time in their last 22 games. Kirkwood previously claimed four straight national titles from 2007-10.

“Coming off a very physical game (Friday night), we knew we’d have to play about 12 kids,” said Carlson. “We truly played as a team (yesterday).”

Lydia Harvey (St. Edmond) of the Tritons was named as Most Valuable Player of the Region XI Tournament. Doyle, Koyamainavure and Katie Dentlinger were also selected to the squad.

“It’s been a crazy eight years for me,” Carlson said. ” I wouldn’t have been able to (reach 200 wins) without a lot of quality hard-working girls.”

The NJCAA Div. II National Championships are set for March 19-23 at the Illinois Central College CougarPlex Fitness Center in East Peoria, Ill.