Until Angela Woods started researching North Idaho College, she didn’t know junior colleges competed for national championships.
Once Woods arrived at NIC, she and her fellow freshmen grew tired of hearing about the national championship.
Now Woods and six other NIC sophomore returners are forging their own identities two years after the Cardinals won the NJCAA Division I title.
The second-ranked Cardinals (23-1, 8-1 Scenic West Athletic Conference) have a roster similar to the national championship team of 2010-11 – talented, deep and loaded with sophomores.
But when they were freshmen during 2011-12, they reached a breaking point when it came to being compared to that “other” team.
“In a way, we understood,” said Woods, a guard from Edmonds-Woodway (Wash.) High. “Our coaches had seen everything that had worked. They were teaching us new things and saying, ‘We just won a national championship with this.’
“We just kind of said, ‘We want to focus on us, and what we can accomplish, and not so much on past teams.’ ”
Head coach Chris Carlson and assistant coach Carey Carlson got the message and understood.
“Somewhere along the line this year, this group set its own goals,” Carey said.
“Their goal-setting has been outstanding,” Chris added. “Their goals are so much about how to hold each other accountable, how to come in and work hard in practice, and team unity.”
Woods became the vocal leader in a returning group that includes Katie Buskey, Tori Davenport, Aimee Durbidge, Mollie Kramer, Hannah Love and Danika Johnson.
Woods said the group overlooked small, crucial goals last season because the biggest goal, repeating as national champion, loomed so heavy.
This season, the Cardinals take joy in immediate goals such as forcing 30-second violations on defense or keeping opponents to less than 45 points per game.
They won’t reveal their bigger goals yet, other than repeating as SWAC regular-season champion.
The new attitude made it easier for NIC to bounce back after its undefeated season ended Jan. 3 with a 55-49 loss at Salt Lake CC, the team that knocked NIC out of last year’s conference tournament.
“Once we were in the locker room afterward, we said we’d rather learn (how it feels) now than in a loser-out game later,” Woods said.
NIC avenged the Jan. 3 loss by defeating Salt Lake 68-54 on Saturday.
WSU loses Presley
Washington State sophomore point guard Tia Presley (Gonzaga Prep) will miss the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during the final minutes of Friday’s loss at Oregon.
Presley, the all-time leading scorer in Greater Spokane League games, supported the team on crutches during Sunday’s overtime win over Oregon State. Freshman Dawnyelle Awa started in place of Presley.
“Tia Presley has been playing lights-out, phenomenal basketball in her sophomore year,” Cougars coach June Daugherty said.
Presley was second on the team in scoring (13.3 ppg) and steals (41) and had a team-best 52 assists.
Presley missed the final 12 games of 2011-12 with a broken foot.
Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves has been selected as an assistant coach for the USA U19 team that will compete at the FIBA World Championship in Lithuania in July. Graves served as an assistant for last year’s USA U18 team at the FIBA Americas Championship. … Junior guard Katelyn Loper (Post Falls) transferred to Oregon after playing two seasons at Hofstra. Loper will have two years of eligibility left after sitting out this season. She started 20 of 27 games for Hofstra last season, averaging 12.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Follow Chris Derrick for women’s basketball-related tweets @srchrisderrick.