BILLINGS — Tears flowed in the locker room after the Miles Community College women's basketball team's season-ending loss Tuesday in the second round of the NJCAA Division I National Tournament. But Pioneers coach Taylor Harris detected just as much pride as sadness.
“Everybody in that locker room is just so proud of each other and the amazing year we had,” Harris told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com over the phone Tuesday night.
MCC’s amazing season, one of the best in program history, ended with a 72-55 loss to Trinity Valley Community College (Texas) at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas. The defeat came one day after the Pioneers beat defending national champion Gulf Coast State (Florida) in overtime for their first NJCAA tournament win since 1989. They finished the season with a 24-2 overall record.
“We were honored to represent Montana down here,” Harris said. “It just wasn’t our night tonight, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t our year.”
No. 18 seed MCC trailed No. 2 TVCC 14-10 after one quarter. The Pioneers took their first lead early in the second and were up 22-20 with 4:22 left in the quarter. The Cardinals finished the first half on a 16-5 run and outscored the Pioneers 21-13 in the third.
MCC freshman Rebekah Dallinger led all players with 25 points (8 of 20 from the field). The Mon-Dak player of the year grabbed seven rebounds, dished out three assists and committed seven turnovers.
Dallinger's sophomore teammate Lili Long added 14 points (4 of 10), seven rebounds and three steals.
The Pioneers allowed 26 turnovers while forcing 14, and they were out-shot 44.9% to 36% on field goals.
“They had a great game plan. They were very physical with us,” Harris said. “They’re so long and so big that it’s tough for us to make those passes out of crowded areas.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Dallinger was named the junior college freshman of the year by the scouting service World Exposure Report, which also gave coach of the year honors to Harris.
The Pioneers have three sophomores (Long, Olyvia Pacheco and Lidia Pintor), and Dallinger might not be back next year, either. The NJCAA’s leading women’s scorer has offers from schools in some of the biggest NCAA D-I conferences, according to Harris.
“This is the last time we’re all going to be together again, but we talked about how excited we are to see everybody’s next chapter,” Harris said.
Tuesday’s game was also the last for Harris at MCC. Earlier this month, he was hired to be the head coach at Fort Lewis College (Colorado).
Harris spent two seasons in Miles City, finishing with a 43-15 overall record and a 30-5 mark in Mon-Dak Athletic Conference play. This was the Pioneers' fifth trip to the NJCAA tournament in program history.
“MCC changed my life. This year changed my whole career,” Harris said. “I’m really grateful for everyone at MCC for giving me this opportunity. These two years were amazing.”