By Mike Deak
WINONA LAKE – After a year away, Grace College is not only more than eager to again host the NCCAA Basketball National Championships, but will also have both of its basketball programs involved.
The Grace College men’s basketball program (18-11) earned the top seed and will play the No. 8 seed SAGU AIC (AZ) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17. And despite a 12-16 mark, the Lady Lancers were able to garner a No. 6 seed and will play No. 3 Concordia (Mich.) at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
Grace has hosted the national tournament for the women every year dating back to 2009, the men joining the women in 2012 in each year since. Grace has been a dual part of every one of those tournaments but one opt-out by the Lady Lancers in 2016, which makes the week extra special for the Lancer campus.
“We’re always thrilled to host this tournament, whether we are here playing or not,” said Grace College athletic director Chad Briscoe. “This year we have a deeper appreciation for what we are being able to do this week with the tournament, given that is was taken away from us last year because of COVID.”
The 2020 tournament was among the winter sports calendar erased from the onset of the pandemic, literally days from getting started last March. Briscoe and his staff were prepared then, and have adapted well to the changes that are in place to ensure 2021 feels like 2019 on back. Also with Kosciusko County among more than half the state in the ‘blue’ designation, leniencies have been granted in allowing fans, which Briscoe and his tournament committee are thrilled to welcome to the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
“Our COVID-19 policies in place do not change with the increase in fans,” Briscoe said. “The fans will be required to wear masks at all times in the arena and we will ask fans to distance who are not in family groups. We have been well under the 25 percent rule all year. We appreciate the Grace College administration allowing us to increase our number of spectators for the NCCAA tournament. We look forward to having community members attend games for the first time all year.
Briscoe continued, “We will have our concession stand open for the first time. We will provide a limited menu but excited to have the smell of hot dogs and popcorn return for home athletic events. We will be selling NCCAA Championship apparel and tournament media guides to fans.”
The tournament week will be different than in year’s past in recognition of COVID protocols, notably the 16 men’s and women’s teams will not participate in the annual on-site activities in the Warsaw community, or partake in the large-scale banquet on Tuesday night, typically featuring a big name guest speaker and tournament honors.
The women will start off the tournament with games beginning at 8:30 a.m., working through four quarterfinal contests. The men will begin their bracket play at approximately 3:30 p.m. Play will continue in bracket ladders Thursday and Friday, and the finals are set for Saturday.
Briscoe pointed out the two tournaments continue to be the only setting in college basketball that crowns two champions on the same floor in the same day, the NCCAA often referred to as the “Little Big Dance”. Unique to the state this year, the NCAA Division I tournament will take place all in Indiana, spread out in Indianapolis, West Lafayette and Bloomington. Even though not being played, the D-II and D-III tournaments were also to have been played in Indiana, in Evansville and Fort Wayne, which would have been the first time all four tournaments would have been played in the Hoosier State. That doesn’t include the high school boys basketball state tournament reaching its semi-state level this week.
“It’s an incredible thing to think about all of the high-level basketball going on in the state at the same time,” Briscoe said. “When you think Indiana, you think basketball. And to have not only the NCCAAs here, but the Division I tournament in Indianapolis, that’s quite a spectacle to be a a part of.”
Grace College is allowing spectators for all 24 games of this year’s tournament. Per the athletic department, tickets are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions and can be purchased online. There will be a limited number of walk up tickets until all tickets for each game are sold out. Please contact the Grace College Athletic office at (574) 372-5100 ext: 6266 with questions.
The Championship tournament information can be found on the official tournament website: www.GCLancers.com/NCCAA.