Video by Marisol Ramirez and Skye Seipp
ROCHESTER, Minn. — The Harvesters landed in Minneapolis on Monday ahead of the NJCAA Division III national basketball tournament that begins on Wednesday.
The players and team staff met on Eastfield’s campus around 4:30 a.m. to catch the 7 a.m. flight. Tired faces and heavy feet carried them through airport security and baggage to the charter bus. From there, it was an hour and a half bus ride to the final destination: Rochester, Minnesota.
“I’m very excited,” center Tyrese Davis said. “I feel good. I feel like we’ve been working all year for this, and we’re at the end of the season. We’re just going to take care of business because it’s a business trip. … It’s like a once-in-a lifetime thing. Having the title is something nobody can take away from us.”
The Harvesters will not play their first game until Thursday when they meet the winner of the first-round bout between No. 6 seed Hostos Community College and No. 11 St. Cloud.
On Monday, the team visited the site of the tournament, Rochester Regional Sports Complex. As they tried to get a feel for their new environment, it seemed like a rack of basketballs appeared on the court out of nowhere. They began shooting around as if they were back home.
“I can’t lie, I got chills,” guard DaJuan Ridgeway said. “I can’t wait to play. I got butterflies. It’s like a dream come true.”
So far, the players have been soaking up the experience. For some, this is their first time ever flying or going to Minnesota. With high stakes to come later this week, the Harvesters are just trying to get comfortable and have a little fun before they start focusing on strategies for the tournament opener.
“I feel really confident that we’re going to win the whole thing,” guard Calvin Williams said. “I’m ready to see what the other teams look like, what they play like, how they play. … Not a lot of people get a chance to come out here and fight for a championship.”
Thanks to their first-round bye, Eastfield has two full days of practice here before they play at 8 p.m. Thursday. This also gives them time to scout out the competition and get a good look at who they may be facing down the road.
“I think it’s a very talented field,” coach Anthony Fletcher said. “I think we are just as talented. We’ve been scoring the ball really well. We want to get open looks, play 2-on-1 basketball, 5-on-3. We want our guys to get easy, uncontested shots. A lot of it starts with defense. If they can defend their butts off, then we’ll have those opportunities.”
The Harvesters are returning to the national tournament for the first time since 2016. Eastfield currently holds the record for all-time tournament wins by active Division III schools with 18. Fletcher is hoping to add more wins to that resume and also continue the legacy left by former basketball coach, Bob Flickner. Flickner led Eastfield to its only national title in 1997. Fletcher will try to do the same this year.
“It’s an awesome experience. We’re just trying to do what we can do to be great,” Fletcher said.