HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - One day before they embarked on their Texas journey for the NJCAA Division I tournament, the Jones County Junior College Lady Bobcats were visited by a legendary figure.
This thought was expressed.
"And the thing is you're gonna go out there and you're not gonna have that attitude like we're lucky, we did good to get here. You're Jones County Lady Bobcats."
Encouraging words from Sandra Sumrall, who coached the Lady Bobcats for 17 years before retiring in 2015. Sumrall does have a point. That "we belong here" vibe should surround the squad, entering the tourney having lost just one game all season.
"It's crazy," freshman guard Alexis Tolefree said. "All the hard work and dedication we put in in practice is finally paying off for us."
Sophomore post Myyah West comes from Prentiss. She's never played on a national stage.
"It feels amazing," West said. "We making history right now. It just feels amazing. Coming from a little small town I never felt this before."
Leading the way is Missy Bilderback who took over for Sumrall. In just her second season, Bilderback has already made JCJC history. Monday's game against Western Nebraska is the program's first national tournament appearance.
"Well we really just...I have to give all the credit back to our players," Bilderback said. "We have really talented young ladies that work extremely hard. When you have that mix you have an opportunity to be really good. We just got really good basketball players. When you have that as a coach it makes your job easy."
While Bilderback prefers to guide compliments toward her players, her early success is impressive. She made the jump followed a solid run at PCS.
"I mean coaching basketball is coaching basketball," Bilderback said. "I think obviously the biggest adjustment was the recruiting aspect and like I said we've been real blessed and fortunate to have such good players here so that transition was pretty smooth."
Recruiting is a critical element in the college game. Bilderback has proven to be adept at navigating that world, bringing a quality mix of talent.
"She felt more... not only wanting me for basketball but I felt like I would be safe here," freshman wing Nique Cherry said . "It was genuine."
Tatyana Lofton, who has signed with Tulane, was sold on Bilderback after competing against her during her days at Madison-Ridgeland Acadmey.
"I played against her in high school against PCS," Lofton said. "I said I gotta play for this woman. She helped me. She's a great woman. She's amazing."
Bilderback credits her high school experience in helping land quality ball players.
"Great assistant coaches that work very hard and that are real personable and got out on the road," she said. "Then also just knowing I think coaching high school basketball in this area helped us a lot. I had good relationships with area high school coaches. I knew a lot of the players. I coached against a lot of the ones we wanted to bring in here to help build (and) take this program as far as we could."
Bilderback and her staff have already taken the program farther than its ever been. There's just one more goal to reach.
Sumrall made it clear on this day.
"We're expecting you to come back number one in the nation."