FRANKFORT, Ky. — March Madness, NAIA-style, begins today and former Paw Paw (W.Va.) high school standout James Arnold is right in the thick of things.
Arnold, in his second season as head coach at Central Methodist University in Fayetteville, Mo., has his Eagles in the NAIA Division I women’s basketball National Tournament, which tips off this morning at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Thirty-one games will be played over the next seven days. The championship game is scheduled for March 19, at 6:35 p.m., and will be televised by the CBS Sports Network.
Central Methodist (25-7), one of 32 teams in the field, will face defending and six-time national champion Oklahoma City (26-3) in a first-round game today at noon.
Central Methodist is playing in its first Division I national tournament, receiving an at-large bid after finishing second in the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament.
The Eagles’ rise through the Division I NAIA ranks has been a swift one. Arnold inherited a team that was 5-25 just two years ago. In his first year he was voted the Heart of America Conference’s Co-Coach of the Year after a 17-13 season, which included a 16-6 finish. The Eagles were picked to finish ninth in the conference. They finished third, just two games out of first.
Arnold, 34, also has coached at Highland (Kan.) Community College and North Central Missouri College. In four years at North Central, the Pirates won 91 games and two region championships.
North Central won 30 games and finished sixth in the Junior College Division II women’s national tournament in 2007, and Arnold and his team were inducted into the school’s hall of fame the following year.
Arnold, who has a 42-20 coaching record in two seasons at Central Methodist, is a 1996 graduate of Paw Paw High School where he was a standout on the basketball and baseball teams.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org