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The women’s basketball team at Niagara County Community College won a game last week and its players were so excited that they all jumped in the school pool.

It’s only been two years since the NCCC women lost a game by 75 points. The team managed only one win that season and was a far cry from the success of the school’s men’s basketball team, which was on the rise under coach Bill Beilein.

So when the Thunderwolves beat Jamestown Community College – the same team that had blown them out, 99-24, two years earlier – on the night of Feb. 20 to clinch the regional title and the right to host this weekend’s NJCAA regional championship for the first time in school history, a celebration was in order.

The win brought NCCC’s record to 25-4. It’s been an impressive reversal of fortunes for the women’s program, and it’s no coincidence that the turnaround coincided with the hiring of coach Nate Beutel. He’s won more games in his two seasons with the team than it won in the 12 years before he got there, according to National Junior College Athletic Association records dating back to 2000.

“I think through hard work and the motto of outworking your opponent on a daily basis, and that’s 365 days a year, I think we’ve been able to make that turnaround fairly quick,” Beutel said.

And when this coach says hard work, he means it. In his eyes, that’s what everything comes back to.

“We’ve improved the talent level immensely,” Beutel said, “… but that really does go back to hard work. That’s through recruiting, player development, kids buying into the stuff that we’re preaching. I think that’s one of the biggest things that Bill talks about all the time, getting your group to buy in.

“That’s the biggest difference with this group here compared to other years,” he continued. “This year’s group has really bought into our message about outworking our opponent, being family, and being tough and together. That’s our model for the season, play tough and play together on and off the floor.”

You don’t have to look far to find evidence of Beutel’s hard work paying off in recruiting. Kristine Ripson, who was named NJCAA Division II, Region III Player of the Year last season, was an NCCC volleyball star who Beutel had to convince to come play basketball. She texted him last October to say she’d play. The first game was Nov. 6.

“She has been the anchor,” Beutel said of Ripson, his 6-foot-1 forward out of Lew-Port High School who averages 16.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.

Another player Beutel was after, Colonie’s Jaclyn Welch, didn’t sign her letter of intent until Aug. 24. She made the coach sweat it out, but all of his work paid off, as Welch has led the team in scoring this season at 18.7 points per game.

Add in a player like Jesse DeWaters (Roy-Hart), who’s third nationally in the NJCAA Division II with 7.0 assists per game, and the team starts to really come together.

“It’s been that type of year where you’re doing a lot of firsts,” Beutel said.

So the last time NCCC had a women’s team this good was …

“To be totally honest, never,” Beutel said.

He and Beilein take great pride in the fact that their hard work is being recognized, and the same can be said for Athletic Director Bob McKeown.

“We’ve had professors and administrators and fellow coaches and co-workers stop us in the hall or stop by the office and tell us they’ve never seen this much excitement around the basketball programs,” Beutel said. “Bill has been here six years and really built up his program. We’re trying to play catch up. We’re on the right path to that and it’s nice to get that recognition along with the men’s team.”

And what could be better for excitement and recognition than winning a championship? Just don’t get your hopes up for a Gatorade bath, because Beutel has bigger plans.

“I already told them that I’d do the same, I’d reciprocate, I’d jump in the pool if we can win this weekend,” he said. “Because this weekend is where it really counts.”

email: nveronica@buffnews.com