Before the season started, North Central College senior pitcher Vlasta Mangia had a clear goal for her softball team, which was coming off a Sweet 16 appearance in 2013.
“(We want to) make it as far, if not farther, than last year,” Mangia said. “I expect us to go to nationals.”
Starting Friday in Pella, Iowa, the Cardinals will begin that quest.
For the 12th time in school history, the Cardinals received a bid to the NCAA Division III Regionals. The Cardinals earned an at-large bid after getting knocked out of the CCIW Tournament by Elmhurst last Friday.
NCC takes on host Central College at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the three-day, double-elimination tournament. The other teams in the regional are Washington-St. Louis and Luther, the team that knocked the Cardinals out last year.
The Cardinals finished the CCIW season at 9-5 before falling to No. 19-ranked Augustana 2-1 and Carthage 11-1 last Friday to fall out of the conference tournament. NCC has lost five straight heading into the regional.
The CCIW All-Conference team was also announced last week. Sophomore Amanda Walker was named to the first team for the second straight year. Mangia and juniors Kayla Antle and Kiersten Tinkoff were each given second-team nods.
Mangia became the fifth NCC player to earn all-conference honors in each of her four seasons.
The Cardinals won their fourth straight CCIW title last weekend and 36th overall. Once again, the distance runners carried the day.
Senior John Crain was voted the CCIW Co-Track Athlete of the Meet by winning the 1,500 meters and 5,000. The Cardinals swept the top four spots in the 5,000, and took five of the top six slots in the 10,000, led by champion Roger Klein.
But in the tightly packed team standings, the Cardinals needed some help from the field events as well. Nick Fridrich won the javelin, with Derek Nelson in second, while Adam Weidner may have thrown his way into nationals by winning the shot put.
“It’s exciting that in my four years here, we’re really becoming more of an overall team,” Crain said.
The women fell from 17th to 18th in the national rankings despite winning the CCIW title. The men moved up to fourth in the latest rankings.
The Cardinals’ hot streak was halted on Saturday’s Senior Day as they dropped a doubleheader to Carthage, but they still finished fourth in the CCIW regular-season standings to reach the conference tournament.
NCC opened play in Rock Island Thursday against regular-season champion Augustana, who took two of three from the Cardinals earlier this season.
The Cardinals were knocked out of the Midwest Women’s Lacrosse Conference Tournament semifinals Friday by Augustana 16-9. The Cardinals finished 9-6 and set new school records for goals (220) and draw controls (212).