Brett Vana, the second-year women’s basketball coach at Louisburg College, was in a hurry Thursday morning.
“I’m sizing the rings,” he said. “The ring man is late and I need to get the girls back in class.”
Sizing rings is one of the more mundane, yet exciting duties extended to Vana this week after his team won the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national title last weekend at Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Ill.
Louisburg (32-3) was the No. 2 seed and rallied in the second half to defeat top-seeded Mesa (Ariz.) Community College 75-65 in the championship game. The Hurricanes fell behind by 13 and trailed 36-28 at the half, but used an overwhelming superiority in turnovers and in free throws to claim the school’s third women’s national title to go with 1981 and 1992 crowns.
Louisburg didn’t shoot that well (34.7 percent) but dominated in second-chance points (21-2), turnovers (3-19) and points off turnovers (16-3).
The Hurricanes outscored the Thunderbirds at the free-throw line (19 of 31 to 9 of 9). Louisburg also grabbed 24 offensive rebounds to Mesa’s eight.
“If you can make your free throws, control the boards and limit your turnovers, you’ll win about 80 to 90 percent of your games,” Vana said. “We did those things and played good defense.”
In other words, it was a scrappy, hard-earned victory that turned when Louisburg switched to a pressure man-to-man defense in the second half.
“We saw that they couldn’t shoot that well off the dribble, so we pushed the pressure,” Vana said. “We are never out of a game because the girls play so hard.”
One key was the play of reserve Justin Taylor, a sophomore from Gastonia Ashbrook. The tournament MVP led the Hurricanes with 19 points and was one of four Louisburg players who logged more than 33 minutes in the title game.
All-tournament pick Tiffany Johnson of Philadelphia Prep Charter (15 points), Latrice Phelps of Virginia Beach Tallwood (14 points, 10 rebounds), all-tourney Olivia Gaines (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Courtney Raiford of Greenwood, S.C. (8 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 turnovers) joined Taylor on the court for most of the game.
“Some coaches believe that you start your best five,” Vana said. “I want some punch off the bench.”
Vana is in his second year at the private junior college in Franklin County, but he has logged plenty of miles to get there. He coached Charlotte Providence Day to an N.C. Independent School Athletic Association 3A title before going to Western Kentucky as a men’s assistant.
Later he spent 12 years coaching in men’s and women’s professional leagues in Europe. He was ready to move to college women’s coaching when he heard about the Louisburg job.
The Hurricanes were 31-2 in 2012 and third in NJCAA Division II. His team was 32-3 this season.
The men’s team was ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the year and finished 35-2 and seventh in the NJCAA.