PREVIEW: Women's Basketball opens up conference play

PREVIEW: Women's Basketball opens up conference play

OCALA-- The College of Central Florida women's basketball doesn't want to be spectators this year at the FCSAA/NJCAA Region VIII Tournament in Ocala.

After missing the postseason the last three seasons, the Patriots are looking to make a return trip to state, when the tournament comes back to CF in early March.

To get there, CF will have to navigate through the always tough Mid-Florida Conference, which has two bids to the postseason this year instead of three.

The Patriots open MFC play on Wednesday night when they host Hillsborough Community College at 6 p.m.

CF (14-4/No. 6) enters conference play on a two-game winning streak after a pair of road wins in Georgia this past week.

"Those were good wins for us," Patriots coach Tommy Jones said. "We really needed those and now we have to focus on conference and getting better each time out."

During the non-conference season, CF earned a win over then-No. 2 Tallahassee Community College for its signature victory. The Eagles were the highest ranked opponent the Patriots defeated over the last decade.

CF also only lost one home game and avenged that defeat with a win over St. Petersburg.

The Patriots have been led by Thais Oliveira, who became the first CF player to earn state and national player of the week honors in two years during her team's non-conference surge.

Over the past six seasons, the MFC has been very tight and this time around is no different.

All five of the conference programs are ranked among the FCSAA Top 10.

FSC-Jacksonville (13-4/No. 5), Daytona State (11-5/No. 8), Santa Fe (7-6/No. 9) and HCC (9-8/No. 10) are the schools that CF must navigate through.

FSC-J is the two-time defending MFC champion and was ranked as high as No. 9 in the NJCAA, but was defeated by Eastern Florida State, a program that split two games with the Patriots during the non-conference portion of the schedule.

The Blue Wave have won six straight against CF and holds a 10-8 edge on the Patriots over the past six seasons.

Up first for CF in MFC play is HCC, a state tournament team last season that nearly upset Northwest Florida State in the opening round of the postseason.

CF's Jones once coached at HCC and led the Hawks to the postseason.

If he can lead the Patriots to the postseason, Jones would be one of three coaches in state history to lead multiple programs to the state tournament.

HCC suffered heavy losses to graduation and will attempt to right its ship against the Patriots.

The Hawks enter conference play on a four-game losing streak, but are 5-1 against CF over the last two seasons. The Patriots, though, did win the only matchup in Ocala in overtime last season.

Since HCC has joined the MFC, it holds a 7-5 edge on CF.

From there, the Patriots will visit rival Santa Fe College on January 10.

Last season, the Saints won three of the four meetings against CF, including a victory in Gainesville in the play-in game for the third and final MFC playoff berth.

Over the past six seasons, SFC holds a 10-9 advantage in the series over the Patriots.

Daytona State, the final MFC rival for CF, has lost four of the last six games with the Patriots and have missed the state tournament in each of the past two seasons.

The Falcons had won six straight over CF prior to that and hold a 10-9 edge in the series over the past six seasons.