Niagara Gazette — Bill Beilein has steadily improved in a key aspect of junior college coaching.
When Beilein took over the Niagara County Community College basketball program four years ago, he lost 11 players to academic ineligibility in midseason. The next year he lost six. Last year, four.
This year, the Thunderwolves return all but two players — and every key piece in the rotation — for second semester play, which begins tonight at Jamestown CC.
On top of keeping together its standout backcourt of Isaiah Johnson and Jon Marsh, its hefty frontcourt of Jordan Street (Niagara Falls) and Jake Hughes (Niagara-Wheatfield) and sharpshooter Ethan Baker (Wilson), NCCC still boasts the main factor from its 9-5 start.
“The biggest thing we have going for us is chemistry,” Beilein said. “I’m really looking forward to this group we have gelling. All 11 guys we have coming back want to win, and all 11 guys have the right mentality to help us win this region.”
The NCCC women’s team also resumes play after a nearly four-week break, hoping to keep up the momentum from a 6-5 start.
Led by Jess Curry (Wilson) and Kristine Ripson (Lew-Port), frontcourt players who are both averaging more than 15 points and 10 rebounds, the Thunderwolves are looking for continued improvement from guards Makyla Drake (Lew-Port) and Ashton Fiegel, as well as bench scorer Nthanda Longwe.
“If it shows out on the floor that they have improved like I think they have, then we are going to have success,” coach Nate Beutel said.
Beutel believes his team has yet to gain respect from its foes in the region, and is using that to motivate the Thunderwolves.
“Each week there is a coaches poll and all they release is the top five,” Beutel said. “There are only six teams in the region and we’ve yet to get in that top 5, so that means we are last, behind GCC which is 1-9. We’ve told the team that conference play is where you gain respect.
The Niagara women’s team will continue Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play at Saint Peter’s tonight.
The Purple Eagles (6-7, 1-1) are coming off an overtime win over Siena on Sunday at the Gallagher Center. They won both games last year against Saint Peter’s (0-13, 0-2).
Gunner Thomas (Starpoint), competing in the 197-pound class and Max Antone (Niagara-Wheatfield), competing in the 285-pound class, each earned pinfall victories and the NCCC wrestling team, which beat Mercyhurst 36-7. The win clinched the conference championship for the Thunderwolves. Irvin Buck (Niagara Falls) earned a decision victory while competing in the 157-pound class.