by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Amid a wild and raucous celebration of Kansas City Kansas Community College’s second NJCAA DII national basketball championship, a few tears were also shed – the most by freshman guard Lenaejha Evans.
Unknown to Evans, her father had come all the way from Conway, South Carolina, and watched the Blue Devils’ 84-59 win over Union County in the title game played at North Ark in Harrison, Arkansas, and it wasn’t until the post-game awards ceremony that she saw him.
“I was not expecting to see him there and it brought me to tears knowing that I and my team had just won a national championship in front of him,” said Evans, who made a mad dash across the court for a lengthy hug and then was engulfed by equally happy teammates. “I knew I made him proud; my most memorable moment – being surprised by my dad at the championship game.”
It was one of many great memories for a team that cruised through four games in the national tournament, winning by an average margin of 18.25 points a game. Here are others:
“Getting subbed out with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter of the National Championship game and coming to the bench looking at all the sophomores I started this journey with was the most bittersweet moment I’ve ever had,” said sophomore captain Camryn Swanson. “Kisi and Nija are my best friends and knowing that was the last time we’ll ever play together in a game was tough. However, I couldn’t feel more blessed from this experience. All of us sophomores have a special bond, one that will last a lifetime and for that I am grateful.”
“Sitting on the bench knowing that we had won and seeing my best friend Camryn Swanson getting subbed out crying and giving me and Kisi Young a big hug and knowing that this was our last game together made me very sad but happy at the same time knowing we accomplished so much,” echoed Nina Collier, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Freshman guard Brodi Byrd concurred. “Knowing this was the last time this group of girls will ever play together was beyond special and I wouldn’t replace any part of this group for this season for the world. It was so surreal knowing the whole fourth quarter we were going to win but then actually having it setting in.”
“Winning it all the best thing to happen in my basketball career,” said sophomore Lizzie Stark. “In high school we didn’t win any kind of championship. We came close but could never win so to come here and play with these girls that I hope will stay in my life forever and win the National Championship was honestly a dream come true.”
For sophomore Lillie Moore, an all-tournament selection, winning the championship was a foregone conclusion.
“Before the season even started I said this was our year because we had the talent and we had a lot to build from last year and we put in a lot of hard work,” Moore said. “As we kept winning, there was a calm excitement because we knew our job wasn’t finished. So after the final buzzer to be claimed the national champions it felt like a heavy weight had been lifted and it was so exciting to see that we had endured to the end and knew we had earned this title.”
High school teammates in Magnolia, Arkansas, winning the national championship in their home state made the title even more special for Moore and Kisi Young, also an all-tournament pick.
“My most memorable moment was seeing the time run out alongside my best friends Cam and Nija and running on the court but then immediately running to Lillie because we’ve wanted this for so long,” Young said. “We’ve been teammates forever but never won anything big like this which caused a lot of emotions. It’s just been amazing to see how much we have grown. I will never forget any of these girls and although we may all go our separate ways I know that in the end nothing could break our bond.”
Sophomore point guards Caitlyn Stewart and Lexy Watts savored their special moments.
“Everything up to winning the nationals,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t easy but in the end it was worth it.”
“Coming into the nationals, everyone’s mindset was simply to win,” Watts said. “I think we knew there was no other option. My favorite moment, however, will always be storming the court after beating Johnson County for the third time in a season.”
The championship run also had its funny moments.
“My most memorable moment was when we accidentally left Diamond (Williams) at the gas station,” said freshman Carson Chandler. “This past season has been a real long journey but we came out on top. These girls have become my family and my best friends and this year is definitely a year that I will never forget.”
For redshirt freshman Caroline Hoppock, the championship brought a little closure to her worst moment in basketball.
“It’s crazy to think that the court I just won a national championship on is the same court that I got hurt on a little over a year ago and missed eight months of basketball,” Hoppock said. “Everything has come full circle.
“This has truly been a dream come true. From such a young age I’ve always wanted to be a national champion. The little girl that still lives in me tells me to keep dreaming and going for bigger and better goals. I am beyond blessed to have such amazing coaches who give so much and pour so much into me and this team for little in return. I couldn’t ask for any better teammates than I have on this team. I love them all.”