Highland Cougars Gear Up for Nationals - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Highland Cougars Gear Up for Nationals

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FREEPORT (WREX) -

Highland men's basketball is back in the national tournament for the first time in three years. Guided by a former Cougar standout, they're ready to make more March magic in Kansas.

"Play hard, play smart, play together."

"We feel like we're a top team in the nation, so we're ready to go."

Highland returns to the Div. I NJCAA national tournament next week, a rewarding experience for a former Freeport Pretzel playing for the hometown squad.

"I knew that this program does special things," says HCC sophomore guard Giovonni Offard. "I expected this but it hasn't happened in a couple years. To be that team to bring it back is a special feeling."

They've done it with a pace of play that'll give you whiplash if you don't keep up.

"That's a reason I really committed here," says HCC sophomore guard D'Angelo Jackson. "I knew we'd be an up-tempo, fast team. Coach Boyle preaches that a lot. With the size difference we have, it's a huge difference. We use speed to our best ability and it works out a lot."

Tone Boyle can relate to his players - he was one of them, a former Cougar. Now on the other side, he's impressed with how his team has embraced a hot spotlight, especially in the regional tournament.

"The pressure of expectations. The one-seed on your home floor, people come expect you to win," says Boyle. "That was an interesting level of pressure for us. We went down to Three Rivers where not many people expected us to win."

"we've seen everything this year," says Offard. "We've been through games where we blow out teams. To fight back in a game like that in a close game, it prepares you for any situation."

Highland now has a chance to further reward its passionate fan base.

"It's been incredible to have the backing of the community," says Boyle. "The support that you hear so much about from the old days or whatever they say, back when Highland was going every year."

The hiatus is over, with five wins left for Highland to bring a national title back to Freeport. The Cougars face St. Petersburg on Monday in Hutchinson, Kansas at 6:30 PM in the first round.

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