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Local talent to star at NJCAA

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Posted: Wednesday March 08, 2000 03:55 PM

CORNING, N.Y. (AP) -- Here's a well-kept secret: The National Junior College Athletic Association's Division III National Championship Tournament will be staged here this weekend, and Mohawk Valley Community College of Utica is one of the favorites.

In fact, the MVCC women, who have a 27-2 record, are seeded second and are quickly building a reputation as a national power. And they're doing so with players born and bred in the Mohawk Valley.

The Hawks head into the tournament at Corning Community College ranked No. 1 in the nation defensively (allowing 39.4 points per game) and No. 3 offensively (72.9 ppg). The Hawks play Montgomery-Rockville Community College of Maryland in the first round at 8 p.m. Thursday.

"We're just basically an upstate, Mohawk Valley team," said head coach David Katz, who has only two players on his 12-person roster from outside the Mohawk Valley. "But I've been very fortunate to get some of the best players in the area the last couple of years. And they've worked very, very hard."

One of those players, Notre Dame (of Utica) graduate Crystal DeRosa, has become one of the top performers in the nation. DeRosa, who is averaging 15.4 points, 4.8 assists and 4.8 steals per game this year, has already been named Player of the Year in the Mountain Valley Conference and in Region III, plus the MVP of the regional tournament, which MVCC won by defeating Jefferson Community College 62-57 in overtime 10 days ago.

Another local product, Waterville High School graduate Amanda Mortelette, is averaging 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

"That win over Jefferson really showed what kind of character this team has," said Katz, whose team has won the vast majority of its games this season by wide margins. "The big thing is that it was on the road, so we had to play through the crowd. That's what it will be like at the national tournament, too, so we have to be ready for it."

The Hawks, however, have assembled a respectable-sized group of fans who often travel with the team. Katz is hoping that some of them will make the trip here this weekend.

"We're very appreciative of our fans," Katz said. "And I'm also very appreciative of my assistant coach, Jon Hochberg. He's been an integral part of this thing. It's really been a team effort all the way around."

If the Hawks win Thursday, they will play the winner of the Anoka-Ramsey (Minn.)-Gloucester CC (N.J.) game on Friday. Anoka-Ramsey, the defending national champion, is the No. 3 seed this year.

Last season also was an historic one for the Hawks, who qualified for nationals for the first time. MVCC finished sixth in the round-robin tournament last spring.

"Usually, the first game is a little bit of an adventure because seedings don't come out until Monday morning," Katz said. "So for the last week, we've been trying to cover all the bases in practice. Essentially, in three days you have to be able to adjust on the fly to all different styles of basketball."

But with only three games standing between his team and the national title, Katz isn't going to let anything catch him by surprise.

"I've got some calls in about Montgomery-Rockville to see what they're like," said Katz, whose team won't have to face No. 1 seeded DuPage (Ill.) until the tournament finals. "To win this, you're going to have to play three good games in three days. That's the most difficult aspect -- to be focused and up three days in a row.

"But I believe that nobody in the country is better conditioned than us. So if any team has an advantage going three days in a row, it's us."

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