The Huntington University men's and women's basketball teams both have a shot at winning national championships.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced on the evening of Wednesday, March 6, that both Forester squads had been granted at-large bids to their respective NAIA Division II national tournaments.
College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO, plays host to the men's tourney, while Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, IA, is the site of the women's. Both tournaments begin on Wednesday, March 12, and run through Tuesday, March 18.
The Huntington men, 24-7, received a 16 seed and will face Southeastern University, 24-6, on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The women, 23-8, were awarded a five seed and will play Menlo College, 25-5, on Thursday, March 13, at noon.
Ty Platt, head coach of the men's team, is focused on turning around his squad's shooting woes.
"You've got to shoot the basketball pretty well when you're out there," he says. "That's been something that, the last two games, it's not been like we typically have been throughout the rest of the year.
"So, we've been working a lot on shooting the basketball and just being confident about that."
He's also preaching aggressiveness.
"You've got to be physical out there because there aren't a lot of calls in the early rounds, if you will, because they're on such a tight timeframe and so forth," he says of the officiating. "So, you've got to take care of yourself - that's the best way I know how to say it. A lot of times, the victory will go to the team that's the most aggressive and, quite frankly, plays the loosest. You don't want to go out and play tight."
Early scouting reports have led Women's Head Coach Lori Culler to deduce that her squad and Menlo present an even match-up for each other. She looks to her team's defense to give them a chance to win.
"I know over the last 10 or 11 games that we played during the regular season and (Crossroads League) tournament, we just did a fantastic job playing defense," she notes. "I think in that stretch of 11 games we were giving up about 52 points per game. If you hold an opponent to that amount regularly, you're going to give yourself every opportunity to win and I just think that if we really put the clamps on our opponent out there, that will give us an opportunity to maybe get through some shooting jitters and some of those things that could affect the outcome of the games."
Platt considers his squad's assets to be its smarts and team-first mentality.
"We've got a team that's made up of intelligent players and that are very unselfish and have bought into the idea that the only stat line they really care about is the one whether or not we win or lose. If we can continue to do that and, obviously, get the ball to the right people in the right spots, and those kinds of things, I think we'll be fine."
For the men, it's their first trip to the national tournament in seven seasons, and Platt's first as head coach.
"We'd like to get it back to where we're going a little bit more consistently," he says. "Each year we've had the same motto that that's where we want to get to and we're just fortunate enough to get there this year, and we're going to go at it."
Although the women have made the tournament more recently, in 2012, they return only two players from that team, senior Pazia Speed and junior Courtney Baker.
"So, not too many of us have experience playing out in Iowa," Culler admits. "But, again, this team has just exceeded any expectations we've had for the season this year, and who's not to say we can't keep that up as we move forward in the tournament?"
Platt knows it won't be easy, but is grateful that his team has the opportunity to play for a national title.
"It's going to take everything we've got, every time we go out," he says. "You certainly can't play, obviously, your second game until you win your first because it's a one-and-done deal. Our guys are going to have to be very, very prepared and play with a lot of spirit - and I know that they will. They've done that all year long.
"We're very excited about going."
Culler echoes that enthusiasm.
"Definitely want to take advantage of the opportunity we've been given and not just be grateful for being there, but go out and actually work hard at winning some games," she says.