NATIONAL CHAMPS: NWF State women defeat Trinity Valley, cut down NJCAA tourney nets

Seth Stringer
Northwest Florida Daily News

LUBBOCK — Fort the second straight year, Bart Walker and Co. have ended the season with a win.

Only this time no pandemic — nor peer — could keep the Raiders from cutting down the NJCAA national tournament nets.

Yep, four years after being re-hired to helm the women's program, Walker has led the fifth-seeded Raiders to the mountain top after a 67-60 win over second-seeded Trinity Valley Saturday in Lubbock.

Raiders head coach Bart Walker barks out instructions to his team as the Northwest Florida State College Lady Raiders played Eastern Florida State College in the NCSAA quarterfinal round at The Arena.

How big was this championship run? It’s the first national title for the Raiders, who last year garnered the No. 3 seed before COVID-19 shut everything down. 

This year, nothing could stop them. 

Tied late, Last-Tear Poa hit a pair of free throws to give the Raiders a 62-60 cushion. On the ensuing possession, the Raiders forced a turnover and Chanaya Pinto capitalized with a 3-pointer for a two-possession lead with 24 seconds left. 

Soon after another forced turnover by the Raiders sealed the transformative win, a fitting end for the nation’s most lauded and suffocating defense. 

Pinto ended the night with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double and Poa had a game-high 20 points for the Raiders, who are a far cry from the last-place program Walker inherited four years ago. 

When Walker was hired in 2017, athletic director Ramsey Ross trumpeted, "He's been successful wherever he's been."

Meanwhile Walker promised a "winning culture” after the Raiders won just one Panhandle game that year and missed the Region VIII and national tournaments. 

"That's our goal, to compete for a conference championship, compete for a state title and then if you do that obviously you're on the path for contending at the national tournament," he said then. "It's a process and we understand it's a process."

The process is complete.

Get ready to raise the banner, order the rings, find a resting place for that national tournament net and hardware and celebrate a victory parade that's been a long timing — decades in the making.

Adding to their legacy, the Raiders finish the season 24-2 after going 15-1 in the Panhandle Conference and outscoring foes 71-50 on the season. 

No defense in the country touched NWF State's pick-pocket, opportune sensibilities.

No offense was able to replicated the Raiders’ efficiency.

Simply put, the Raiders were in a class of their own. So what's the next step?

How about putting together a dynasty, Bart?