by Scott DCamp
Sports Editor

The Northland Community & Technical College women’s basketball team survived a semifinal scare against fourth seeded Central Lakes College on Saturday, 59-54, before knocking off Hibbing 68-53 to win the program’s third consecutive Region 13B title on Sunday.
Things didn’t always go according to plan for the 2017-18 Northland women’s basketball team. The Pioneers were inconsistent throughout much of the regular season, but the team played its best basketball down the stretch to end the regular season in a tie with Rainy River Community College. A coin toss gave Northland the rights to host the region tournment.
“We’ve been trying to emphasize all season long about emptying the tank and working hard for 40 minutes,” Nelson said. “This team, at times, has taken breaks and we’ve been up and down because we’re not consistent. We told them champions don’t take plays off. We’re proud of how hard we played on both ends of the floor for the entire 40 minutes.”
Northland opened the postseason by surviving a nailbiter against Central Lakes College. The Pioneers led 20-14 after one quarter was in the books, but the Raiders closed the gap in the second quarter and trailed the Pioneers by just three points at the break.
Northland pushed its lead to 10 points with a 19-12 third quarter advantage. The Pioneers led by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter, before the Raiders closed the gap and got to within five at the end of the game.
Third seeded Hibbing upset second seeded Rainy River 76-70 in the other semifinal to set up Sunday’s championship game.
On Sunday, Northland never trailed at any point, holding a 17-14 advantage after one quarter. The Pioneers lead 32-26 at the half and pulled away for a 15-point lead after three quarters were in the books.
“They have pressured us before and we have done a pretty good job against it,” Nelson said. “We felt like if we got a lead, they were going to put it back on. We had a few things in place and I thought we executed really well.”
Speed was Northland’s primary weapon against Hibbing’s press.
“Kelsey Kainz is fast,” Nelson said. “We got her the ball and had her just turn a corner. There were two or three people open at all times. I thought we did a really good job of having composure against their pressure.”
Heading into the tournament, a rematch with Northern Division co-champion Rainy River Community College appeared likely should Pioneers get past Central Lakes. The Pioneers had swept Central Lakes, while splitting with both Rainy River and Hibbing.
“We really just prepared for Central Lakes all week long,” Nelson said. “We figured whoever we matched up with today, we would talk about during our walk through. Between the four teams in this tournament, it could have gone any way.
“We’re happy with how everything turned out and we’re excited to head out to Rockford,” Nelson said.
Hibbing made a few runs in the fourth quarter, but the Pioneers answered each run to maintain the 15-point cushion.
The 2018 NJCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament will be held March 15-17 in Rockford, Ill.

1 2 3 4 T
Central Lakes…… 14 11 12 17 54
Northland………… 20 8 19 12 59
Central Lakes – Katelyn Waytashek 2, Aleia Lupa 5, Maddey Mellon 2, Sam Schimpp 5, Tanisha Beetso 30, Liz Anderson 10 .
NCTC – Emily Hestekind 12, Megan Swedberg 21, Emily Anderson 2, Hannah Dietsch 6, Madison Stenzel 11, Brooke Heggie.

1 2 3 4 T
Hibbing……………. 14 12 11 16 53
Northland…………. 17 15 20 16 68
Hibbing – Diana Clement 6, Alison Huber 14, Stacie Lokken 7, Allison Gordon 16, Hannah Morris 3, Lilly Dorman 3, Mckenzie Kloecki 4.
NCTC – Emily Hestekind 10, Megan Swedberg 9, Kelsey Kainz 6, Emily Anderson 12, Hannah Dietsch 5, Madison Stenzel 13, Brooke Heggie 13.