“It’s supposed to be 60 or 65 down there when we get in,” Beal said prior to the team’s departure. “I don’t think anyone’s going to object when we walk out of the airport.”
That said, the team’s southward travel is very much a business trip. The team tips off tonight (Thursday) against South Mountain, 3-6 this season. On Friday, they’ll take the floor against Mesa, currently ranked seventh in NJCAA Division II with a 6-2 record.
“Just because they play in a different division, they will be a very, very good team,” said Beal. “It isn’t the sort of difference you’d expect when going from, say, NCAA Division I ball to Division II. We’ve had common opponents.
They played Salt Lake very tough. They have a very good team.”
And it’s a team that Beal will be seeing for the first time on film when she arrives in Arizona.
“I’ll be getting the game film on them at the airport,” she said.
The challenge of facing opponents they’ve never seen before is just one of the challenges — and appeals — of making the trip. There’s also the matter of the Trappers, who carry a 5-7 record into the second semester, going some 18 days between practices.
“Prior to the kids returning this week, we haven’t had a team practice since Dec. 9,” Beal notes. “So we’re working to get back in shape. Everyone’s taking some time to get their shot back. In a lot of ways, this is like playing the first game of the season all over again.”
Which is another appeal of the Arizona trips. If the Trappers do have some rust to clean away, they’d much rather do it now than next week when the team plunges back into Region IX play.
“It gives us a couple games to work on some things before we host Western Wyoming on Jan. 7,” Beal acknowledged. “It’s just a good time on the calendar to take the team somewhere without interfering with classes.”
Sophomore Megan Smith leads the Trappers with 14.8 points, 5.6 rebound, 2.0 assists and 1.8 steals per contest.
Classmate Mckenzie Garrett chimes in to the tune of 11.8 points per night. Similar to last year, the Trappers boast one of the nation’s top team free throw percentages with a 73.4 accuracy rate at the line.
The Northwest College men’s basketball team, 6-4 thus far, will also make an appearance in Arizona. Head coach Andy Ward will be taking his team to Yuma, Ariz., to play games on Jan. 3-4.
Right now, the challenge is trying to get his players back to campus to resume practice.
“We’re having some issues because of the blizzard back east,” Ward said. “It’s changed flight schedules, even at airports that weren’t affected, so we’re waiting for some guys to get back.”
Practices for the men’s team were scheduled to resume last night (Wednesday). Ward wasn’t sure flight issues would be resolved for all players to make that first practice, however.
Those practices will provide vital preparation. Much like the fall semester, when the Trappers found themselves opening the season against the then-No. 1 team in the nation, Northwest finds itself beginning the spring session against a quality opponent.
“We open against Arizona Western, and they’ll be an athletic club that defense very well,” Ward said of his team’s 8-2 Monday opponent.
In the last NJCAA basketball poll before the holiday recess, Arizona Western was one of several teams just outside the top 25 that were receiving votes. On Tuesday, the Trappers face Yavapai, a traditionally strong program from Region 1.
“That’s the nice thing about a trip like this,” Ward said. “It gives us a chance to play a couple games against schools from a different region. In the big scheme of things, they have no bearing on where we finish in our region or our conference, but they benefit us by being good teams. We’re not coming back against an All-Star team something.”
Sophomore Curtis Trotter leads the Trappers with 19.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest. William Walker adds another 9.7 points and 5.5 rebouds per night.
“Hopefully we can go down there, play well and enjoy some success,” Ward said. “We’re hoping this is the sort of trip these kids will remember.”