It was a roller coaster regular season for the Central Lakes Raiders women's basketball team but it's currently on an upswing at the most important time of the season.
The Raiders, seeded No. 3 in the Northern Division, kick off the Minnesota Community College Conference state tournament Friday against Riverland, seeded No. 2 in the Southern Division and ranked No. 4 in NJCAA Division III.
MCCC women's basketball tournament
Site: Ridgewater College; Willmar
Schedule: CL vs. Riverland, 3 p.m. Friday; Saturday-Sunday TBA
Overall: CL 8-18, R 20-5
Central Lakes has reached its goal of a state tournament bid after beginning the season 2-12, winning five of its next seven games, dropping four conference games in a row before winning the season finale.
Raiders coach Dennis Eastman, who took over the position when the team was 1-6, said he saw state potential in the team despite its rough start.
"Watching them at the start I thought if we could get things clicking, get it rolling at the right time, we could," he said.
Eastman said it was big to win the season finale after dropping four straight and the team has nothing to lose against a tough opponent in Riverland.
"We would have gotten in either way but it was huge for us. I didn't want to back into the tournament," he said. "People didn't even expect us to make it this far. We have nothing to lose. Those teams in the Southern Division, they have everything to lose. Almost all of them are top 10 in the nation.
"We can compete with Riverland. We looked at film all weekend. There are definitely things we do better now than we did the last time we played. They're a great offensive team. Shutting down their offense will be a challenge."
The teams first met on Nov. 17 when Riverland destroyed Central Lakes 83-57. The Raiders put forth a much better effort the second time around as they fell 71-66.
Freshman guard Stacey Butler said she hopes last Saturday's win in the regular-season finale will give the team confidence heading into Friday's matchup.
"The win brought everybody back together because we were kind of falling apart as a team. Things just weren't going right and we had some people sick. Now, we're pretty much all back and healthy," she said. "We're ready to take them on again. I think we've all clicked better since then. Watching the tape, we picked up on all the little mistakes we were making and we've improved on that.
"The state tournament was always in the back of my mind. We have a great team and we knew we could go this far."
TY RUSHMEYER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5865.
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