SHERIDAN — A quick look at the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament shows the high level of respect the selection committee has for the Texas and Florida regions. And while the national tournament will feature two teams from the country’s least populated state — Sheridan College (at-large selection) and Casper College (automatic qualifier) — the Generals and Thunderbirds still feel they have something to prove in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“Sometimes you look for outside influences and outside motivations, and that’s one of the things both us and Casper have,” SC Head Coach Matt Hammer said. “I know Casper is not extremely happy with the seed they were given, and they got some things they want to prove down there, and we are the same way.”
Sheridan earned the eighth and final at-large bid and was seeded 13th in the bracket, while Casper was seeded ninth after claiming the Region IX automatic bid and finishing the season ranked No. 6 in the final top-25 poll.
The Generals won 31 games, against just three losses this season, and that occurred just a season after Sheridan won 28 games and was snubbed from the tournament.
“I feel like Sheridan has a long history of being really good, but in the past teams and people have overlooked us,” Sheridan’s Sean Sutherlin said. “I feel like when we go down [to Hutchinson] we have something to prove, and show everybody how good we are.”
Sheridan will battle No. 20-seeded Kaskaskia in the opening round Monday at 5:30 p.m. The Blue Devils hail from Centralia, Illinois, and finished the season at 23-10. Kaskaskia gained inclusion into the tournament by way of winning its region tournament, upsetting No. 2 Vincennes in the semifinals.
The Blue Devils are the lone team to make the national tournament from the state of Illinois, as John A. Logan — ranked fifth in the final poll — was snubbed as an at-large candidate. In fact, the Great Lakes Region only had two teams, Vincennes was awarded an at-large bid, make the 24-team field.
Texas boasts the most teams in the tourney with four. South Plains — the defending national champion — Odessa, Ranger and Trinity Valley make up the Texas-based teams. Taking into account all 24 tournament teams, Ranger is the team located in the smallest town; Ranger, Texas, has a population of 2,498 people.
Florida claims three teams at the national tournament and from nearly all corners of the state. Northwest Florida State (panhandle), Florida SouthWestern (Gulf Coast) and Eastern Florida State (Atlantic Coast) make up the Florida-based teams.
Wyoming and Kansas — Coffeyville and Seward County — are the only other states to have multiple teams make the national tournament.
Central Georgia Tech is the team based in the largest city, as Macon, Georgia, has a population of 152,663. Only four teams total — Cape Fear, Shelton State, Odessa College and Central Georgia Tech are located in cities of more than 100,000 people.
If one were to split the country in half, using the Mississippi River, 13 teams in the 24-team bracket are west of the Mississippi River.
SouthWestern Florida State has the longest trip to Hutchinson, a trip traversing 1,590, while Coffeyville is located just 187 miles from Hutchinson.
It’s an eclectic mix of teams at the national tournament, and the team from Sheridan will play with a chip on its shoulder looking to stay in Kansas for an extended period of time.