By Jason Maholy
The Moraine Valley women’s basketball team is moving on to the NJCAA Women’s Division II National Tournament.
Led by tournament MVP Ashley Hunter’s game-high 30 points and Kate Ruzevich’s 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, the Cyclones defeated McHenry County 89-70 on March 9 in the NJCAA Region IV District D finals at Waubonsee Valley Community College in Sugar Grove.
Moraine will compete in the national tournament for the second time on three seasons. The tourney begins March 19 in Harrison, Ark.
Moraine (32-1) has won 31 consecutive games, with its only loss coming Nov. 3 to Lincoln Land College in the second game of the season.
The Cyclones have been dominant, outscoring opponents by an average of 26 points per game on the season. In their postseason run to the national tournament, they defeated Black Hawk 102-45 and Illinois Valley 100-61 before routing McHenry by 19.
Heading into the contest, head coach Delwyn Jones was wary of facing the Scots. The two teams had played each other twice during the regular season, with the Cyclones winning 80-64 on the road and 77-63 at home.
“I didn’t want to play McHenry, but we played well,” Jones said. “McHenry fought hard. I know they don’t back down. But we fought. I’m so proud of my players.”
Moraine led 36-35, but Hunter closed out the first half by draining two 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds to give the Cyclones a seven-point cushion heading into the break.
Moraine has owned the third quarter all season, and once again they surged in the period. They extended their lead to 20 within the first three minutes of the second half, and outscored the Scots 31-13 in the quarter to take control of the contest.
“The beginning was tough, but we know we needed to turn it up, kick it up,” said the Cyclones’ Hennessey Handy, who finished with 19 points, seven boards and seven assists. “We know we’re better than anyone in the region. We had high adrenaline in the second half
“Everybody came together. This is the best thing to ever happen to me. I just want to cry but can’t because my adrenaline is still going.”
Julia Ruzevich, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, said advancing to the national tournament is “surreal.”
“This is so memorable because it’s always something you want to accomplish with amazing teammates and coaches,” she said.
Hunter was named Region IV Division D Tournament MVP, and Handy and Ruzevich earned All-Tournament Team honors.
“I’m still in shock. It’s an amazing feeling to know we got it done,” Hunter said. “Last year hurt. I was really focused in this game. I didn’t want the feeling of [failing to advance] last year.”
Jones was named Region IV Coach of the Year.
“I say this every time, but these players have great character and work hard,” Jones said. “It’s so fun when you have talent. They’re fun to work with, and that’s how we got better. We’re a much better team than we were at the start of the season.”
This will be Jones’ second time taking the Cyclones to the national tournament.
“We can challenge any team we face at nationals,” he said. “All the teams will be nervous. It’s the same game, just in a different state.”