McKayla Peltier goes to the basket during United Tribes’ NJCAA Division II playoff game against Southeast CC (Kan.).

DENNIS J. NEUMANN, United Tribes News

In many ways, the United Tribes women’s basketball team will stand out at the NJCAA Division II national tournament.

The Thunderbirds will represent North Dakota, something that doesn’t happen every year. They’re a Native American school to boot. They will be making their first national tournament appearance in school history.

All of the above mentioned are great storylines, but perhaps, what will make the Thunderbirds stand out the most is their six-man roster. Advancing as far as the national tournament with just six players is an oddity.

“Our practices aren’t how normal practices would be run,” United Tribes coach Kia Herbel said. “The girls probably hate our practices. It’s more circuit training and stuff like that. It’s more focused on the conditioning side of it. Who likes to do that, honestly?

“You want to work on game-like situations, but it’s hard with nobody playing defense. We are going over a lot of fundamentals and basics.”

There are many great things about the women making school history, but the fact they advanced this far is mind boggling, even to Herbel.

“For them to come into practice, knowing it’s going to be difficult, and knowing every game is going to be difficult and they won’t get a break,” Herbel said. “For them to stick together and play as a unit is admirable. I’m in awe how far they’ve come throughout the year. I’ve seen them grow in leaps and bounds that I couldn’t even imagine in one year.”

Guard Shelby Greeley admitted that the process of getting to the national tournament hasn’t been a picnic. United Tribes (18-14), a 16th seed, matches up with top-seeded Monroe (29-0) on Tuesday in Overland Park, Kan.

“The practices are hard,” said Greeley, a 5-foot-7 freshman from Sisseton, S.D. “Sometimes we do (complain), but we want to make history and that is what motivates us. I’m glad Kia has pushed us in practice. Practicing hard has paid off.”

Terae Briggs leads United Tribes with a double-double, scoring 22.8 points and snagging 12.3 rebounds a game. McKayla Peltier is adding 14.2 points an outing while Greeley is putting in 10.1. Greeley is also contributing 5.1 assists and 3.2 steals a game.

Greeley’s play has been a key factor in United Tribes advancing.

“She’s a silent playmaker,” Herbel said. “She’s doing everything in between to get somebody the points they need and deserve. She scores when we need her to. She has a motor that is running and pushing everybody through the game. She gets us in the zone we need to be and continues us in the pace we need to be at.”

Most successful teams field a player like Greeley—one who is willing to do the dirty work.

“Without a player like that, we wouldn’t be where we are right now,” Herbel said. “She doesn’t have to say anything. She shows up and puts it out there. That is something from the heart. You wish you could coach that because everybody would have it.”

Herbel played in the NAIA national tournament when she was a junior at Dickinson State. She has tried to share her experience with the Thunderbirds and has passed along some good advice.

“Take it all in and enjoy the moment,” Herbel said. “Don’t speed through it too quickly and take advantage of it. As quickly as it comes, it goes away just as quickly.”