State Colleges

‘UConn of the South’: NSU steps toward vision with both basketball teams in Elite Eight

Nova Southeastern University’s Sharks celebrated their 89-74 victory against the Lynn University’s Knights to win the NCAA Division II south region championship at the Rick Case Arena.
Nova Southeastern University’s Sharks celebrated their 89-74 victory against the Lynn University’s Knights to win the NCAA Division II south region championship at the Rick Case Arena. pportal@miamiherald.com

The plan was always ambitious for Michael Mominey. From the day he took over as the athletic director at Division II Nova Southeastern University in 2002, he thought he could help build the school into a basketball power across both genders — the Connecticut Huskies of Division II.

For the women’s basketball team, success has now been consistent for the better part of a decade, with four trips to the Elite Eight in the last seven years. For the men’s basketball program, it’s still new as it heads to the elite eight for the first time in history.

What matters most is they’re both heading to the Elite Eight together this year.

“My vision and mission really has been to become known as sort of the UConn of the South,” Mominey said. “I used UConn as an example simply because they had a lot of success for a lot of years with both of their programs.

“This is sort of our vision come true.”

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The No. 8 seed Nova Southeastern women will open the historic week for the Davie school Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio, with a national quarterfinal game against No. 1 seed Drury University of Springfield, Missouri. Less than 24 hours later, the No. 4 seed NSU men will take the court in Evansville, Illinois, against No. 5 seed Saint Anselm College of Manchester, New Hampshire, at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Sharks’ long-term goals of becoming a powerhouse in both sports is far from over, but the 2019 season will be remembered as an important milestone if those dreams are eventually reached.

“With both teams going to the elite eight,” Mominey said, “I think it legitimizes that we can be known as a basketball school and that’s no offense to the other eight national championships we’ve won in four different sports.”

Nova Southeastern’s former baseball coach, Mominey won’t go so far as to say he wants the label of “basketball school” to follow his athletic department, but it’s impossible to deny the buzz the Sharks’ dual success has had around campus. Nova Southeastern doesn’t have a football team, so basketball naturally draws the most casual fans to games, especially when both teams are competing at a national level.

On the women’s side, it has become the expectation. The Sharks are still searching for their first national title and they’ve steadily climbed closer since coach LeAnn Freeland-Curry took over in 2011. Nova Southeastern started slow this season before getting three key contributors eligible at midseason. The Sharks were able to spring three upsets in their regional to get back to the elite eight, buoyed by a 39-point performance from guard Christen Prasse in the regional semifinals.

“I’ve told everyone on the team for several months now,” Freeland-Curry said. “In my opinion, this is the most talented team we’ve ever had from 1-16.”

The men have quickly grown, too, since their newest coach arrived in Broward County. Coach Jim Crutchfield took the reins in 2017 after winning more than 350 games at D II West Liberty University in West Virginia and quickly got Nova Southeastern on track. This isn’t just the Sharks’ first trip to the Elite Eight — it’s their first ever trip to the NCAA tournament.

“He raised the expectations of the program,” Mominey said. “As soon as he stepped on the court the first day — and even in the press conference that day in late March two years ago — he just has a presence about him.”

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