By Mike Meiler email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — A three-week break and single-digit temperatures weren't enough to cool off the Niagara County Community College men's and women's basketball teams.
Both teams enjoyed record starts to their seasons and showed no signs of slowing down Tuesday night against visiting Lakeland (Ohio) Community College. The women remained undefeated with a blowout win, while the men won their second straight after dropping their first game of the season on Dec. 14.
The women tipped off first, pounding Lakeland 71-23.
Jesse DeWaters (Royalton-Hartland) had 15 points, six assists and six rebounds, while Jaclyn Welch had 14 points and seven steals. Maria Faso (Niagara Falls) chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench, and top forward Kristine Ripson had eight points to go with 11 rebounds and six blocks.
NCCC (16-0) started on a 20-2 run in the first six minutes and led 43-16 at half. A 20-0 run in the first 11 minutes of the second half sealed a win in which all nine players on the roster scored.
The big win was yet another milestone for the Thunderwolves, who were much more likely to find themselves on the losing end of a 48-point decision just a few seasons ago.
"We never want those days back," said coach Nate Beutel. "The girls are hungry to continue what we've started, and that's the calling of a great team, remaining hungry even when you're winning."
Now, the women are off to the best start in program history, though they're only receiving votes in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II despite leading all teams in wins.
The next poll is released today, and Beutel said he doesn't expect that status to change.
"It's kind of like a mid-major trying to break into the (NCAA Divison I) top 25," he said. "If Duke is 10-4, it's still ranked over Niagara (University) even if Niagara is 14-0.
"... I'm OK with it. It's a motivating factor for us, another thing to add to our goals."
The men followed with a double-digit win of their own, beating Lakeland 96-80.
Eli Jones led the way with a double-double, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 boards. Chuka Ikpeza scored 20 points off the bench, going 5 for 5 on 3-pointers and 7 for 7 from the field. Point guard Sheldon Zablotney added 16 points and eight assists while EJ Sandoval chipped in 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
"It took us a while to put them away," said coach Bill Beilein. "We kept going 10-12 points up, then blowing that lead. We didn't put the game away until there were three minutes left."
The win puts the Thunderwolves at 14-1, their best start in 40 years. They were ranked tenth in the NJCAA Division II poll before this week, when they dropped out due to a mix up over winter break. They'll likely remain in the top 10 when the next poll is released next Tuesday.
The women have three non-conference games left. Next up is a game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Alfred State, an NCAA Division III school playing an independent schedule. The men have two more games before conference play, with Lorain County CC visiting for a 3 p.m. tip Saturday.