HIBBING — For the first time in the history of the program, the Hibbing Community College women’s basketball team will be competing in the Women’s Division III National Tournament.

The No. 4 seeded Cardinals will take that historic leap today, beginning at 1 p.m. (CST), when it takes the floor against No. 5 seeded Western Tech at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa.

Hibbing earned that right with a Region XIII victory over Northland.

“This is everything that you work for,” Brau said. “We’ve accomplished it. It doesn’t get any better than that. This is the first time a women’s program here is participating in the National Tournament. It’s a special thing.

“We have a lot of unknowns going into our first National Tournament. At the same time, to go in and play round one vs. Western Tech, a team we have already competed against this season, is a great place to start.”

Western Tech, which is located in LaCrosse, Wis., won their Region Tournament over Anoka-Ramsey.

“What’s unique about our area of basketball, nationally, is we have two regional bids,” Brau said. “They play in the Southern Division of our conference. We are some of the best basketball in the nation, and we possess two bids.”

But what about playing each other in the first round. Is that unique?

Not quite.

“I’ve seen it before in seeding with previous teams that made it out of our regions,” Brau said. “To be the best, you have to beat the best. To start out with Western Tech is a great thing.

“Comparing them to the other six teams in the tournament, we know so much more about them than we do the others. It has been a long time since we played them. We were their second-to-last loss.”

That game was held in early December, so both teams have evolved since that time.

“Clearly they’re playing their strongest basketball at this point of the season,” Brau said. “They went undefeated in their division. They play as a team, both on the offensive and defensive ends.

“When you take a look at how deep they are (12 players), and the fact that their leading scorer only averages 12 points, our team has to beat their team.”

If the Cardinals have one advantage, it’s a size advantage.

“We out-size them,” Brau said. “We’ve been a small team all season. We’ve competed against bigs and traditional posts from other teams, but Western Tech isn’t that type of team.

“We have a number of talented players that one-on-one can beat their players, but it comes down to playing team basketball. If we stick to our motto of playing defense, rebounding the ball and converting in transition, that is the way we can beat Tech.”

In that first meeting, Hibbing only gave up 56 points, so it’s going to take that same kind of defensive effort to get the job done.

“They’re solid with the basketball, first and foremost,” Brau said. “The one thing we’ve tried to do throughout the season is generate turnovers to get possessions. They only had 13 turnovers.

“What we did an exceptional job of against Tech the last time, and we must do it again, is rebounding. We out-rebounded them by 12. To have that rebounding margin served us well. To hold them to 56 points was an accomplishment.”

Brau is downplaying that because the Cavaliers were in the midst of a three-game road trip at the time.

“They were a big jet lagged at that point,” she said. “Their legs were too tired. We have to keep all of that in mind, and know what we need to do in order to beat Tech. Hopefully, we can execute that in the first round.”

Brau shouldn’t have to worry about the focus of her team. Hibbing is now on spring break, so basketball is first and foremost on the Cardinals’ minds.

“They’ve looked great at practice,” Brau said. “Our team has a level of focus, and we’re prepared for this tournament. It is about enjoying it. It’s a special experience they’re going to have.

“We fly out to Pennsylvania. We get to practice in an arena. We get to have a banquet that’s a formal and a wonderful experience. To have three games at such a National level is a wonderful thing to celebrate.”

The Cardinals are guaranteed three games, no matter what happens, and even though Brau wants them to have fun, there’s still some serious basketball to be played.

Beating Western Tech is that first priority, and Hibbing has the credentials to do it.

“We have the best winning record and winning percentage in Division III women’s basketball right now,” Brau said. “We enter as the No. 4 seed. We finished nationally ranked as the sixth team. We have so many accomplishments this season, that we have to be happy at this point.

“We’ll play our hearts out as our season comes to an end. Out of 88 teams, the worst we can finish is eighth. The best is first. Ultimately, this is going to be a great accomplishment.”

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