Tabor players, fans did themselves proud at Branson

This was my first chance to go to an NAIA Division II national basketball tournament. Here are a few observations from my time in the Show Me State.

— The tournament was held at the College of the Ozarks right outside of Branson. I can’t think of a better venue for a small-college tournament. The campus was beautiful-“C of O,” as it’s known, is the third richest institution in the United States-and the setup of the facility was ideal.

Hoop fans could enjoy non-stop basketball-only 10 minutes elapsed between games and at halftime- with plenty of seating, and even a huge food court at the end of the floor.

I hope the Jays make it back next year just so I can have the opportunity to go again, too.

— Tabor should be extremely proud of the way it was represented in Branson, both by the players and by the contingent of fans that followed them.

First, the team. The Bluejays started the tournament against Milligan by going on a 24-7 run, making six 3-pointers in seven minutes.

Everyone in the gym, including the team from Milligan, was shell-shocked. Who was this Tabor squad from the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference? Tabor had the smallest enrollment of any school in the tournament.

After their first-round win, the Jays were considered by many fans to have a good chance to advance to the finals. They were admired for their impressive shooting and their patient approach to the game.

And then there were the Tabor fans. The 300 or so fanatics who made the six-hour trip easily made up the biggest contingent of supporters in the tournament.

Coach Don Brubacher appreciated the turnout.

“We have a great crowd,” he said. “It’s wonderful to come this far away from home and have that kind of support. It’s something you don’t expect, but it’s great.”

— I will give my “Craziest Fan Award” to juniors Brett Thiessen and Brian Goentzel. Thiessen came out wearing an outdated Bluejay uniform that was about two sizes too small, while Goentzel sported his almost-famous “TC Man” superhero costume.

— Even though Tabor is losing three starters to graduation, the Jays will be a strong contender for a return to Branson next season.

Leading scorer and team leader Micah Ratzlaff will be back for his senior season. Also coming back are Scott Brubacher, Tyson Ratzlaff, Ernest Nortey, Lance Redetzke and Jimmy Janzen.

That’s a load of talent.

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