Warriors earn ticket to Hutch

Head coach Hank Plona celebrates inside the Hellyer Student Life Center in Ottumwa after the Indian Hills basketball team is officially announced on Monday as having earned one of eight at-large bids to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament. The Warriors, ranked 12th and seeded 12th in the 24-team single-elimination tournament, open play next Monday night against Central Georgia Tech in Hutchinson, Kansas. Tip off is set for 8:30 p.m.

OTTUMWA — Playing the best in the country throughout the course of the season gave Indian Hills a second opportunity to play with the best teams in the country at the national tournament last season.

Warrior basketball fans are hoping to win another trip to Kansas the old-fashion way, by winning regional and district championships, the 2019-20 schedule should help IHCC have a great chance to return to Hutchinson. Indian Hills announced  a regular-season slate that includes 18 home games and contests against seven national tournament teams from last year, including five who played in the NJCAA Division I tourney along with the Warriors.

The season begins with a classic Nov. 1-2 when the Warriors entertain three other schools, including John A. Logan from Illinois whom IHCC has never played before in basketball. Former Indian Hills assistant coach Cole Dewey’s Otero Junior College team will also take part in the event the opening weekend.

The next Friday and Saturday the Warriors will travel to Sedalia, Missouri, where State Fair Community College will host the inaugural Iowa-Missouri Challenge. The two-day affair will match four Iowa DI schools against four from Missouri. Indian Hills will face off against Three Rivers and State Fair.

After the opening two weeks, IHCC comes back home to battle two teams that were in Hutchinson last spring – Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Coffeyville.

“Many people told me that our schedule last year was the hardest they had ever seen,” said Plona. “We were rewarded with an at-large bid (to the national tournament) when we needed one, so that is the idea of playing difficult opponents. Just as important to me, it helps our team and players improve each and every day.

“Scheduling is hard because everyone seems to want to try and make things in their own favor, but we quite simply just try and find the best teams that are willing to play us. We will play anybody anywhere, and I think we prove that once again this year.”

The Warriors will return a game from 2018-19 when they take on yet another national tourney squad, Northwest Florida State, in Niceville on Nov. 23 on their longest trip of the year. Then, it will be another weekend on the road with a pair of tests at Moberly, Mo.

And that’s just the November schedule. Ten games total, all of them against high-quality foes.

“Playing five different teams that got to Hutch, and that doesn’t even include a potential top-five preseason team in John A. Logan, will be quite a challenge, but we are looking forward to it,” Plona said about another rugged schedule.

There are five more non-league contests in December and an additional four to begin the month of January before the conference slate starts with a trip to West Burlington and a matchup with archrival Southeastern on Jan. 15. The two teams split their regular-season dates a year ago and wound up tied for the conference title. It was the 10th straight league championship for the Warriors, who finished 27-7 overall.

“I am very excited about the 2019-20 season and I think we have put together a tough schedule of opponents that will be a challenge for us and provide for exciting games each and every night,” Plona said. “Our guys will report to school just before the first day of class on Aug. 26, and we will get right after it, trying to get ready for the upcoming year.

"Having two key guys like JD Muila and Tyon Grant-Foster back will help a ton. They both played meaningful minutes as freshmen, had great performances at Hutch, and I know they are motivated to help our team get back there.”

The Warriors have qualified for the national tourney in each of Plona’s previous four years at the helm and will shoot for their sixth consecutive trip this season. The 2019-20 schedule can be viewed on the Indian Hills website at www.indianhills.edu/basketball.