Ottumwa -- Indian Hills coach Hank Plona had talked all season about the rugged schedule he had put together for 2018-19, one filled with potential national tournament teams and some other very successful programs. Despite a loss in the Region XI championship game, that schedule could very well have been one of the big reasons why the NJCAA National Tournament selection committee awarded the Warriors an at-large berth in the tourney on Monday. IHCC, boasting perhaps the top strengh-of-schedule ranking in NJCAA DI, claimed one of eight spots that wasn't automatically allotted to a region/district champion.
Indian Hills, with a 26-6 record, was given the No. 12 seed and the program's sixth consecutive trip to the national tourney, and the 15th in school history.
The Warriors will play their first game in the 2019 tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas on Monday, Mar. 18, at 8:30 p.m. against Central Georgia Tech. The Titans have a record of 24-7 and are the champs out of Region XVII, where they defeated Georgia Highlands in the title game to gain their second straight trip to Hutch.
"I do believe we deserve this opportunity (to go the tourney)," said coach Plona. "We have had a challenging season with some ups and downs, but overall it has been an outstanding season and our kids have fought and battled through every challenge, made us proud time after time, and are very excited to be going to play next week."
Plona took the head coaching job at Indian Hills prior to the 2015-16 season, so this will make four consecutive visits for him to Hutch as a head coach. His last two years as an assistant at South Plains also ended in national tournament appearances, so both the Warriors and their head coach will make it six years in a row at the tourney. "Our school, administration and community gives us so much support in everything we do, so I am very happy that we are able to keep this streak alive," Plona said. "We have done that by recuiting high-character and high-level kids that put a product on the floor that we are all proud of."
The Warriors kept practicing last week while they held out hope the loss in the region championship game wouldn't end their season. After learning the season is still alive, Plona's squad went back to work Monday afternoon in preparation for a stiff test against Central Georgia Tech. "Most of all, I'm happy for our kids, that we have a chance to finish the season on a strong note. Each and every one of them deserve the chance to compete for a national championship, and I can't wait to go to Hutch and do all we can to try and get one."
Indian Hills will be joined in the 24-team national tournament field by four teams -- Northwest Florida State (the No. 1 seed), Coffeyville, Moberly Area and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M -- they faced in the regular season. They were 3-2 against those teams.