Family bond fuels Saints

The Saints gather on the court during a timeout in a home game on Jan. 23 against Herkimer Community College. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — North Country Community College women’s head coach Jerrad Dumont and the school’s staff have been able to draw student-athletes from across the country to be members of the Saints basketball team.

A big reason for the Saints’ remarkable success this season is they’ve taken that team and turned it into a family.

The players come from anywhere imaginable — Virginia, Texas, Florida, Alaska, even right here in the North Country — and they’ve joined together on a historic run with a national championship in their sights.

On Thursday, that family will attempt to get one step closer to a national title, as NCCC takes on New Jersey’s Passaic County Community College in one of four quarterfinal matchups that open the 2019 NJCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championships.

The tournament takes place March 14-16 at the Arthur L. Scott Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. NCCC will be there, and so will seven more teams that are still in action and looking to be called best among the 100 or so women’s junior college Division III teams that started the season. The Saints march into the tournament seeded second with a 27-2 record and an ongoing 21-game winning streak.

North Country’s Kayla Carder (41), Jasmine Perea and Bailee Gauthier (24) close in to defend against Herkimer’s Myjoi Adams during a Region III matchup in Saranac Lake on Jan. 23. The Saints women have the third-ranked Division III defensive team in the nation, allowing an average of 46.8 points per game. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

The last victory in the string, a 74-64 triumph over Jefferson on March 3 in the Region III final, lifted the Saints into the NJCAA tournament, and it came on a weekend when the players had to earn everything they got. They eked out their 20th win that Saturday, slipping past Fulton-Montgomery 65-61 in the semifinal round. A day later, the Saints emerged from what had been a close battle against Jefferson with a 10-point victory to claim the first Region III crown in program history.

Confidence and trust have been factors during the run, and of course, a deep lineup of good players who shine at both ends of the court have been huge, too.

“I think we have a very good family atmosphere. The kids are very close with each other, and you see that more and more as the season goes along,” longtime Saints’ assistant head coach Rob Roy said prior to a team practice Thursday. “How tight the kids are, that’s important with the team. They trust each other. They play for each other. When we were in a tight situation in the semifinals, no one seemed to panic or worry when the game got tight, and I think that helped pull us through.”

“We really have someone who can do everything,” said first-year player Kayla Carder, who leads the Saints in scoring and rebounds. “There’s not something that we can’t do on this team. I think we know our own strengths, what personally each of us can do, and what our teammates have to offer as well. We just know our roles on the team, and everybody has something to offer.”

Ty Taylor, NCCC’s sophomore point guard who’s ranked 10th in the nation in assists, said despite playing in two close contests in the regional final four, she never lost confidence that the Saints would pull through.

“Never a doubt,” Taylor said. “The game was going back and forth with Jefferson, but there was no doubt in my mind that we would win. It was an amazing feeling. What helps us in close games, we always remember we are a team. We stick together. We just keep each others’ heads up. We just do what we have to do to win.”

During his 32 years guiding college players, Roy has coached both men’s and women’s basketball at North Country and had a stint as an assistant at SUNY Plattsburgh as well, and said he first got to know Dumont as a hard-working youngster who loved basketball.

“I’ve always thought highly of Jerrad. I knew him as an AAU player in Plattsburgh,” Roy said. “Then I watched him play high school ball at Chateaugay, and have him come here and coach him, and then watch him play at Plattsburgh. Throughout his career, he’s done well, and he’s passed that on to his players. Jerrad’s established a terrific program. You could just see his work ethic as a kid.”

Chad LaDue, NCCC’s director of athletics, echoed assistant coach Roy’s feelings.

“This team reflects their coach,” LaDue said. “They put in the work. They work hard. They’re not worried about individuals. They’re worried that at the end of the day, they have more than the team they are playing. These ladies have truly bought in to playing for each other.”

LaDue added that the Saints’ women have also been very good at knowing their strengths and using them based on any given situation.

“I think they are able to analyze where they have the advantage; whether it’s going inside to their bigs, or if it’s a need to get up, defend and cause turnovers,” LaDue said. “They’re able to play many different styles. They’re smart enough to go ahead and figure out what style they need to play to be successful. They can adapt.”

Taylor said this year’s journey to the program’s first Region III crown and a berth in the national championship started a season ago on a disappointing note, one that saw another successful run halted earlier than expected after an upset loss in regional quarterfinal round. Taylor is one of seven players from that team that finished 24-5 who returned to for their second and final seasons for the Saints to take care of some unfinished business

“Right then, we started looking forward to this year,” Taylor recalled. “We worked hard for this. We put in so much work, even over the summer. We did what we had to do to come back and win this championship.

“I feel like for us, ‘team’ is an understatement. We’re family. We’re more of a family than a team,” Taylor continued. “We all love each other. We all support each other whatever we do. We just have to keep playing how we’ve played all year. We won the regional championship, but there’s no reason why we can’t win nationals too. I think we have a good chance.”

The team departs for Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon and the public is invited to attend a send-off celebration for the Saints at 2:45 p.m. at the NCCC Sparks Athletic Complex in Saranac Lake.

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