March 28, 2024 

HBCU notebook: Norfolk State’s Niya Fields pointed the way for plenty of winning

Plus: NC A&T advance to WNIT third round; Grambling State bows out with WNIT loss to Louisiana Monroe

NORFOLK, Va. — As Niya Fields was concluding a discussion with a reporter following the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) semifinals earlier this month, Coppin State head coach Jermaine Woods exited the interview room and hugged the Norfolk State guard.

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Woods then playfully asked, “Did you graduate yet?” Fields, with a mischievous smile on her face, said, “Nope, I’ll see you next year.” To which Woods shook his head, took a few steps, stopped, and said, “You’re my favorite. I always tell you that.”

While Fields’ steady play has earned respect from her teammates and coaching staff, opposing coaches feel the same way about the 5’8 guard who competes with a fierce scowl and a smile that could light up Times Square.

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Yet, Fields, who earned All-MEAC Second Team honors, was so much more for Norfolk State this season.

“She’s our playmaker,” said Norfolk State head coach Larry Vickers. “She’s our decision-maker. She holds us together. She plays at the bottom of the zone when our fours are in foul trouble. She has to rebound. She shoots mid-to-high 30s from a three-point distance and spaces the floor for us. Every year, she’s gotten better for us. We’re glad she’s with us and not with anybody else.”

The Peekskill, NY native, communicates with a winning language; she averaged 4.0 assists and had an assist/turnover ratio of 2.0, which led both the team and the MEAC overall. Fields was also second on the team in steals per game (2.6).

Fields only turned up her intensity during the Spartans’ four postseason games. She had ten steals, including three per game in the MEAC Tournament against South Carolina State and Coppin State, and the NCAA Tournament against Stanford.

Fields, who has 388 career assists, appreciates having a lot of responsibility.

“It’s an honor,” Fields told The Next. “I understand that it’s a trust that not a lot of players get, so I don’t take it lightly. To know my coaches have that trust in me even if I make mistakes because they know I am going to get it back for them. I just want to do whatever I can to help us, especially on defense.”

Niya Fields helped Norfolk State win a school record 27 games. (Photo credit: Norfolk State Athletics)

In the world of AAU, where scoring is important and usually gets you noticed, it was something else about Fields that stood out to Vickers. Back when Vickers attended one of Fields’ seven a.m. New York Gaucho AAU games, his eyes lit up when he observed her game. The coffee hadn’t even kicked in yet, but he knew she could be a significant part of his program.

“When you’re watching AAU games, you can tell who team-first people are,” Vickers said. “You can tell immediately that she was a team-first person who could make every read. From there, we remained in contact. She had some offers, but we were like, we’re not letting you go that far. We’ve enjoyed our last four years together.”

It’s easy to see why. Norfolk State has won two consecutive MEAC Tournament championships and has gone to two straight NCAA Tournaments. Norfolk State finished with a school-record 27 victories this season and had a 15-game winning streak before falling to Stanford in the first round last weekend.  

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Fields says she learned the game by following her father, Thomas, who was a referee, to his games at a school behind their house. A few years later, she was playing against older players.

“I am sure my dad lied about my age, but I was so happy to play that I didn’t even care who I played with or against,” Fields said. “My dad developed my skills; from there, I met different coaches and trainers. Thankfully, I got into the hands of coach Vickers.”

Fields knew she was home when she visited Norfolk State for the first time. It helped that her sister attended college an hour away in North Carolina so she’d have support.

“I would say there’s a different culture attending an HBCU than a [Predominately White Institution (PWI)],” said Fields during Norfolk State’s press conference on Thursday at Stanford. “It’s something you can’t explain; you have to be there and feel. I feel Norfolk State showed me that culture on my visit, gave me welcoming arms, and is my second home away from home.”

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Fields’ impact has extended beyond the court. She is student-teaching and making a difference. Majoring in elementary education, Fields’ parents always stressed the importance of learning, so she always took pride in being the first one to recite the multiplication table when she was younger.

“I’ve always wanted to work with kids,” Fields said. “They are our future. I love education. I loved taking tests and learning. I know it sounds so nerdy. My mom always told my sister and I, don’t be pretty dummies. Be smart and educated. I grew to love education, especially thanks to all the amazing teachers I had in school. Without them, I would’ve flunked. Now, I have a chance to be that person to teach other kids and make an impact.”

North Carolina A&T advance to WNIT third round

North Carolina A&T will host Troy Friday at 7 p.m. in the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). “Club Corbett” has been jumping for the first two rounds of the WNIT as the Aggies eked out emotional victories over crosstown foe UNC Greensboro and Old Dominion. The Aggies have averaged over 3,400 fans for both postseason games.

The 2023–24 A&T women’s basketball team is the second team in program history to win two WNIT games after the 2009–10 team did the same with wins at Wake Forest and Charlotte. With a win over Troy, it will make history while advancing to the WNIT quarterfinals against Louisiana-Lafayette either Saturday or Monday at a place and time to be determined.

In the win over UNCG, the Aggies overcame a 13-point first half deficit to win. An enthusiastic crowd of 3,909 witnessed the battle between the Gate City programs two miles apart. Jordyn Dorsey led the Aggies with 17 points and Paris Locke added 10 points. North Carolina A&T prevailed despite shooting 31.8 percent.

Two nights later, North Carolina A&T senior guard Maleia Bracone swished a 3-pointer in front of the A&T to bench with 0.9 seconds remaining to lift the Aggies to a 48-45 win over Old Dominion University (ODU). 

In their two WNIT games, the Aggies defense have been stingy, limiting UNCG and ODU to 35.6 percent shooting and allowing 48.0 points per contest.

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Grambling State’s WNIT victory highlights memorable season

Grambling State concluded a fantastic season with a 23–10 record under first-year head coach Courtney Simmons. The Tigers enjoyed a 12-game winning streak, finished second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), defeated Arizona State, and won a first-round road game in the WNIT over Oral Roberts, 93–91.

Simmons’ 23 victories tied the most wins for a GSU women’s basketball coach in their debut season. The wins were also the most in a season for the women’s basketball program since the 1999–2000 season. 

Jazmyne Jackson was the offensive catalyst for the Tigers during their memorable postseason run. In four postseason contests, the 5’7 sophomore guard from Aubrey, Texas, averaged 19.5 points per game in two SWAC Tournament games and two WNIT games. She made the game-winning three-pointer against Oral Roberts with 22 seconds remaining. Jackson scored 23 points in the Tigers’ season-ending 102-76 road setback to University of Louisiana Monroe. Jackson was 7-of-12 shooting from the field, and knocked down 5-of-8 from three-point range.

Kahia Warmsley added 14 points with two assists, one steal and one rebound and Douthshine Prien scored 11 points with four boards, two assists, and one steal. Amanda Blake snagged a game-high 13 rebounds with six points, a block, and steal in her final game for Grambling State.

Written by Rob Knox

Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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