In the winter of 2016, Gator senior basketball player Emily Anderson was competing in a home game on Senior Night when she experienced an injury that would change the course of her senior sports year– an ACL injury. This injury would sideline Anderson for the rest of the basketball season and for the entire softball season. She supported her softball team to a state runner-up finish that season.
“Watching them (my Gator softball team) go to state was pretty hard, but I knew my role was to be there and support, so I was trying my best all the time (to do that),” Anderson said.
But, as she added, she doesn’t like to watch, and this ACL injury created some motivation for Anderson. She chose to continue to participate in athletics after high school, taking her talents just down the road to Northland Community and Technical College (NCTC) in Thief River Falls. In her two years there, she had the opportunity to help lead the Pioneer Women’s Basketball program to two regional championships and two national tournament appearances. It was a ride she wouldn’t soon forget.
“If you love athletics just as much as I did, continuing (to participate in athletics collegiately), even if you have two more years, is totally worth it,” Anderson said. “Coming off an ACL injury, people think ‘Oh, are you going to come back?’ And you’re like of course I’m going to come back. I love this. I don’t know why people wouldn’t.”
A three-sport high school athlete (volleyball, basketball, softball), Anderson has always had a passion for sports. Beside basketball, she also plays shortstop on the Pioneer softball team.
“My life has always been centered around it (sports) and I wasn’t really ready to just give it up yet (after high school),” Anderson said.
During her first basketball season at NCTC, Anderson averaged 6.97 points per game (202 total for the season) in helping the Pioneers earn a regional championship and berth in the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III National Championship tournament. At the national tournament, held in Utica, N.Y., the Pioneer women finished seventh.
Losing three sophomores, but returning all six freshmen, including Anderson, from that 2016-17 season, the Pioneers, Anderson explained, wanted to continue to build on the program’s success.
“We definitely wanted to make it back to nationals and finish higher,” Anderson said. “We wanted to prove that we were good without the people we had last year and we could do it.”
This year’s Pioneer team did just that, defeating Hibbing 68-53 at home on March 4, to claim another regional championship and berth in the national tournament, this year held at the Rock Valley College Physical Education Center in Rockford, Ill., March 15-17. Anderson responded when asked about her emotions after claiming another regional championship.
“The feeling is undescribable,” Anderson said. “It’s just something that we’ve worked hard for all season and just to finally get it was pretty awesome.”
Seeded fifth at the national tournament, the Pioneer women defeated fourth-seeded Montgomery 76-58 in the opening round. Advancing to the semifinals, the Pioneers fell to top-seeded and last year’s national champion Rock Valley 56-50. The Pioneers then ended the season with a 90-84 loss to UCONN Avery Point to finish fourth in the country.
Anderson described the national tournament as a “pretty cool” experience, from getting to attend a banquet and see all the teams to playing in a large space with many fans.
The competition level within the Pioneers’ region grew from last season to this season, Anderson said, but at nationals the competition just continues to increase.
“The competition is pretty high. The teams that we play (at nationals), they aren’t the same as our region,” Anderson said. “… Every single person on their team (at nationals) is just really athletic and they all know basketball pretty well.”
In the national tournament, Anderson averaged 13.66 points per game, led by her 16-point game, including a four for nine performance from three-point range, in the opening round win over Montgomery.
To see the complete story, read the March 28 issue of The Tribune in print or online.