QUINCY -- The John Wood Community College women's basketball team's schedule was brutal during the first month of the season.
JWCC played several nationally-ranked opponents and schools in NJCAA Division I, losing 10 straight games to open the season.
"It was definitely a struggle when we kept losing," JWCC sophomore forward Madelyn Hyer said. "But in the back of our minds, we knew it'd help us and make us stronger when conference season. We played harder teams to get us ready."
That seemed to go as planned.
JWCC won 15 of its last 20 games and secured the No. 2 seed in this weekend's Region 24 Tournament. It opens against No. 7 seed Lincoln Land at 4 p.m. Friday at Lincoln Land Community College.
A change in systems on offense and defense also contributed to the 10-game losing streak. Every player on the roster was learning a new game plan.
As the losses piled up, the Trail Blazers never wavered.
"We just stayed in our lane and were true to ourselves," JWCC coach Norm Rodriguez said. "We focused on the little things. We had faith and belief and trust in the girls. We had faith in the system."
As the Trail Blazers improved, so did their ability to score.
JWCC averaged only 49.9 points in the first 10 games, but it averaged 65.9 points and went 6-4 in the final 10 games. Sophomore forward Autumn Voigt averages 16.2 points per game. Before scoring just two points in the season finale against Lincoln, Voigt had averaged 18.4 points in her last 10 games.
Hyer, who averages 11.9 ppg, had a season-high 19 points against Lincoln. Freshman Ashtyn Lagemann at 10 ppg.
"The first two games we scored relatively well, but after that we kind of refused to score," Rodriguez said. "Now we're doing a lot better job of scoring, and our defense has really come a long way, too."
JWCC's defense has allowed just 59.7 points in the last 10 games.
The Trail Blazers attribute that to being more vocal on the floor.
"Just communicating and the energy on and off the bench," Voigt said. "At the beginning of the year, we talked a little bit on the court. Now, there's a lot more talking and there's more energy on the bench.
"It's huge when you're out there, and you can hear your teammates on the bench cheering you on. It's a huge team atmosphere."
The more JWCC wins, the higher the energy gets, too.
"Winning has a lot to do with that atmosphere," Voigt said. "It was a struggle in the beginning, but when you start winning, things turn around. It gets people fired up."
JWCC split the regular season series with Lincoln Land as each team won on their home floor. JWCC also went 4-2 against the top four seeds in the bracket, including a sweep of No. 3 Lincoln, and beat No. 1 seed Parkland on its home floor Feb. 24.
That has the Trail Blazers brimming with confidence they can become the first team in program history to reach the national tournament.
"Definitely after Parkland, we had a lot more confidence," Hyer said. "We just have to keep focusing on one game at a time and keep going."