MASON CITY, Iowa — With a 32-1 record, the North Iowa Area Community College women’s basketball team had a good chance of winning the NJCAA Division II Tournament.
The Trojans, who are coached by former Chisholm High School boys basketball player Todd Ciochetto, were the No. 1 seed in the eight-team tournament, but then the coronavirus hit and the tournament was originally postponed until April 20.
When that wasn’t feasible, the whole thing was called off, but the teams’ season didn’t go unnoticed.
Ciochetto, who has been the head coach for six seasons, was named the NJCAA Division II Women’s National Coach of the Year by the World Basketball Exposure Report.
It was the first time Ciochetto has earned the award, but he was quick to give the credit to where that credit was due.
“It’s an honor, but it’s more about the players,” Ciochetto said. “I have good kids and good players, and they’re easy to coach. When you have leadership from the team… Our one sophomore should be the National Player of the Year.”
Ciochetto’s path to NIACC began as a Bluestreak. He grew up in a basketball-playing family with brothers Scott and Paul. His father, Mike, was the girls coach for Chisholm. He played for the legendary Bob McDonald.
He took some of the things he learned from McDonald into the job, but his father was his main mentor.
“I took a lot from him,” Ciochetto said. “He knew how to treat people, and that’s why he was a good coach. I’m a little more vocal than him, but we both treat players the same way.”
Ciochetto has been with the program for nine years, serving as co-coach with Kelli Terrell, so the transition to head coach was smooth.
“Before she left, we were third in the country, and the No. 1 seed going into the tournament. As an assistant, it was a good spot to be.”
Ciochetto had a tight-knit group of players. He also gave them a say in how the team was run.
It’s that coaching style that is one of the reasons why the has taken that step to the next level.
“Once every two or three weeks, I let our point guards take over the practice, and I sit back and watch,” Ciochetto said. “Practice is fun. They play music and stay upbeat. The girls respond to it. We get the best out of them.
“It’s more about empowerment and taking ownership of the team.”
As far as his roster goes, Ciochetto has nine players from Minnesota on the team, including Allie Negen of Mountain Iron-Buhl.
“We have a lot of Minnesota kids, and they’re good,” Ciohetto said. “Minnesota kids are overlooked. We’re getting a higher-level of play out of them, and that’s why we’ve gone to the next level.”
Next season, Ciochetto will have at least one more Minnesota player, Kourtney Manning of Hibbing.
“When they see the campus and the culture, they want to play here.” Ciochetto said. “We’ve turned the stigma of JUCO around. This year, our best player will commit to San Jose State. Kourtney can be that same kind of player.
“She’s going to be a star. It might take awhile because she doesn’t have that confidence in herself yet, but she can do everything. She can score, she can run the floor, she can shoot the three. I don’t see anything she won’t be able to do.”
If Ciochetto keeps bringing in those top recruits, there might be more awards to follow, but that’s the furthest thing on his mind.
“I don’t coach for awards,” Ciochetto said. “If you don’t have good players, you’re not going to win any awards. It’s a byproduct of having good players.”