MASON CITY — NIACC coach Todd Ciochetto isn’t shy when talking about the talent this year’s Lady Trojans squad possesses. But he also has good reason to talk up this team.
NIACC is currently ranked 12th in the NJCAA Division II poll and has one of the best offenses in the country. The scary thing is Ciochetto didn’t see the team’s true potential until a few weeks ago.
“It wasn’t until about two and a half weeks ago when that lightbulb went off – you could just see a light bulb go on, and man, can they play when it goes on,” Ciochetto said.
The reason for this can be traced back to what this team does off the court.
With a big sophomore class, and a freshman class that has made an impact since they arrived, the team gelled right away. In that time, the chemistry and friendship off the court has translated into an unselfish team on it.
“It starts in our locker room because that’s where we get hyped, that’s where we do our every-game ritual. We get hyped, we get ready, and it just transfers out on the court,” freshman Mikayla Homola said. “It’s a pretty good community to be around knowing that we’re all giving our all in the 15 girls that we play and it’s a good environment.”
In Ciochetto’s time as coach, and even dating back to his days as an assistant, the Lady Trojans have always prided themselves on having a deep team that’s able to roll through any number of lineups and still play its style of basketball.
They’ve been able to do that behind three talented players this season in Homola and sophomores Taylor Laabs and UU Longs. After Wednesday night's postseason opener against Ellsworth, a 105-40 win for NIACC, Laabs leads the way with 15.4 points per game. She also moved within one 3-pointer of tying Trudy Pederson for second on NIACC’s all-time list.
Homola is right behind Laabs at 14.9 per game, and Longs averages 11.6.
“It’s nice because those two and UU can just create for anybody,” Ciochetto said. “If we’re shooting set shots for everybody else, I’m confident they’re going to make more than miss.”
The unselfishness of those three is what stands out. All are capable of scoring more than 20 per game, but they don’t need to in this offense. NIACC has 10 players who average five points per game or better.
“That’s just been the personalities of the girls on the team,” Laabs said. “We all love to see each other succeed, and as we do that, we kind of send messages to other team like I don’t think other people want to play us.”
As NIACC gets closer and closer to reaching its goal of getting back to the national tournament, the balance becomes more important.
The Lady Trojans play in the Region XI semifinal Saturday vs. Iowa Central at Kirkwood, and a potential rematch vs. Kirkwood could be waiting on Sunday.
“We just have to do the little things right,” Ciochetto said. “I think we’re the best team and I’ve said that from the beginning, and when the light bulb went off that really solidified it.”