Avery Point opens at NJCAA tourney on Thursday

Former Stonington star Taty LaFrance Boyce, right, listens as UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison goes over final notes after Monday's practice in Groton. The Pointers, seeded third, play Rochester on Thursday in the NJCAA Division III tournament at Rockville, Illinois.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Former Stonington star Taty LaFrance Boyce, right, listens as UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison goes over final notes after Monday's practice in Groton. The Pointers, seeded third, play Rochester on Thursday in the NJCAA Division III tournament at Rockville, Illinois. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

George Hardison calls the players on the UConn Avery Point women's basketball team, of which he is the head coach, “some of the highest quality, highest character people I know.”

“Everything is special about them,” Hardison said.

Now the team Hardison labels “overlooked” will make an appearance on the grand stage at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III Women's Basketball Championship in Rockford, Ill. The third-seeded team among the eight in the bracket, the Pointers (23-6) open play at 9 p.m. Thursday against No. 6 Rochester (Minn.) Community and Technical College (23-6).

Rochester earned its bid to the nationals by winning the Region 13A championship in double overtime over Minnesota West Community and Technical College 88-84 on Sunday, March 4, behind 27 points from 5-foot-7 sophomore guard Nautika Kotero.

The same day, Avery Point topped defending Region 21 champion Roxbury (Mass.) CC 74-69, earning its first bid to the national tournament since 2009. Taty LaFrance Boyce, a 2016 Stonington High School graduate, led the Pointers with 30 points in that game and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. LaFrance Boyce, who shot 10-for-18, also added six rebounds, three steals, three blocked shots and two assists.

Hardison said winning the region championship is something his team has been talking about since school started in the fall.

The Pointers split with Roxbury during the regular season, falling Dec. 16 at home (72-65) and winning Feb. 17 at Roxbury (71-60). The deciding game was played at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.

“We went in focused and got the job done,” Hardison said. “We had a few principles we talked about, but as long as we stayed focused, we knew we should do well. … They were excited. They were very excited.”

Hardison's roster consists of eight versatile players, including locals LaFrance Boyce of Stonington, a sophomore, and freshmen Mia Brennan of Waterford and Hannah LeBeau of East Lyme. Each player on the team has started at least seven games this year, something Hardison calls a strong point.

“We don't have anybody on the team that couldn't start,” the coach said. “All eight players on my roster could have started any game in the season. We have eight selfless, talented players who do their jobs really well.”

LaFrance Boyce was named an All-Region 21 first team pick for the second straight season after leading the league in scoring with 22.4 points, ranking her eighth in the nation in Division III, and adding 9.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. She was joined on the first team by fellow sophomore Meagan Bianchi of Killingly, who averaged 10.7 points and led the region in assists with 7.7 per game. Bianchi has 223 assists to her credit this season.

Brennan (11.6 ppg., 3.4 apg) and freshman forward Egypt Santos (10.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) were second team All-Region honorees and Hardison, in his fifth season, was named the Region 21 Coach of the Year.

LaFrance Boyce scored 1,699 career points at Stonington, second only behind all-time great Heather Buck, and earned Class M all-state honors as a senior for the Bears. She made a splash in her debut for the Pointers a year ago, earning third team All-America honors, and, said Hardison, has only gotten better.

“She's one of the best,” Hardison said of LaFrance Boyce. “She has great chemistry in the locker room. She's a very strong player. There isn't an aspect of her game that hasn't improved … defensively, offensively, she does everything she needs to do. She works hard at it.”

Hardison called Brennan, who led the Lancers to the Class M semifinals last year, “the motor that runs our defense.”

Avery Point left home early Tuesday morning, headed for Illinois and its opening matchup with Rochester. The winner of that game plays at 9 p.m. Friday against the winner of a first-round game between No. 2 Hostos CC of the Bronx and No. 7 Onondaga of Syracuse, while the loser falls to the consolation bracket. The tournament, hosted by Rock Valley College, concludes Saturday.

“We're very excited. We've worked very hard,” Hardison said. “We've been overlooked all year, now we're still playing. … We've been doing our homework. We know who we're playing out there. We're going to go out and go our job like we have 29 other times when no one else is watching.

“Whether people are paying attention to us or not, they play hard.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison, right, puts his squad through an early practice on Monday at Groton.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison, right, puts his squad through an early practice on Monday at Groton. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn Avery Point's Mia Brennan runs the offense during Monday's practice in Groton.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn Avery Point's Mia Brennan runs the offense during Monday's practice in Groton. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison goes over final notes after an early practice on Monday at Groton.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison goes over final notes after an early practice on Monday at Groton. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison, right, watches Taty LaFrance Boyce, left, as he puts his squad through an early practice on Monday at Groton.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison, right, watches Taty LaFrance Boyce, left, as he puts his squad through an early practice on Monday at Groton. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Former Waterford standout Mia Brennan shoots a free throw as UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison puts his squad through Monday's practice at Groton.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Former Waterford standout Mia Brennan shoots a free throw as UConn Avery Point women's basketball coach George Hardison puts his squad through Monday's practice at Groton. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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