Blue Devils’ 38 wins equal second most victories in season

While six KCKCC sophomores will be lost, seven starters to return in 2020

Lana Ross was flanked by sophomores, from left, Faith Maslak, Gracie Gentry, Brittney Beck, Kaylee Arnzen, Britney Smith and Paris Forshey who helped KCKCC finish 38-20 in Ross’ first year as head coach and equaling the second most wins in a season. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

Lana Ross has served notice. There’s going to be another big dog in the Jayhawk Conference softball race.

Despite the worst spring weather in a couple of decades. Ross’ first team at Kansas City Kansas Community College: 1) Won 38 games, equaling the second most wins in KCKCC history; 2) Divided regular season series with each of the three co-champions; and 3) Reached the NJCAA Region VI District D championship game.

“Finishing 38-20 exceeded my expectations,” Ross said. “To get through a season with just 13 players I couldn’t have asked for any more. If someone had told me before the season we would be in the championship game, I definitely don’t think I would have believed it. But this group worked so hard and it really paid off. I don’t think people realize the time and work that goes into a season and all the extra hours put in by the girls, Coach (Jenn) Strohman and myself.”

Finishing 12-8 in the Jayhawk, the first winning conference record since 2014, the Blue Devils put six players on the All-District D team. First baseman Kaylee Arnzen, shortstop Hannah Redick, outfielder Devin Purcell and pitcher Shay Grosstephan were named to the first team; second baseball Britney Smith and pitcher Mackenzie Pinkerton to the second team. Arnzen and Smith are the only sophomores.

One of only three sophomores in the starting lineup, Arnzen led the team in most offensive categories. Hitting .379, she also led in home runs (10), RBI (51), extra base hits (23) and slugging (.667) and set KCKCC records for walks (39) and putouts (337). The other sophomore starters who will be lost are Smith, who hit .307 and earned second team All-Jayhawk honors; and Parish Forshey, who had just one error in 39 chances in left field.

The other losses include pitcher Faith Maslak, who was 7-2 with six complete games and a 2.77 ERA; catcher Brittney Beck, who hit .216 in 38 games; and Gracie Gentry, pinch-runner deluxe.

Seven starters will return including infielders Redick and Alaina Howe, outfielders Purcell and Alexis Rymer, catcher Jennica Messer and pitchers Grosstephan and Pinkerton. Grosstephan, who got two wins in the district playoffs, finished 15-6 with a 4.10 earned run average. She walked 54 and struck out 73 in 145 innings. Pinkerton was 16-12 with four saves and a 4.65 ERA. She struck out 134 and walked 91 in 161 innings.

Redick was second in hitting (.368), led in hits (75) and drove in 37 runs from the leadoff position; Howe started all 58 games at third base, hitting .230 with 25 RBI. Rymer did not have an error in 76 chances in right field while hitting .337 with 22 extra base hits and 40 RBI while Purcell had just one error in center in 77 chances while batting .354 with 18 RBI and a team leading 14 stolen bases. Messer played 40 games behind the plate without an error while hitting .297 with 24 RBI.

Unable to get outside because of snow, ice and cold, the Blue Devils’ first games at Crowder were also the first outside the KCKCC Field House.

“Not conducive to having a great season, especially not having an opportunity to face live pitching,” Ross said. “But I think we peaked at the right time. The freshmen really stepped up. Howe made some great plays at third; Purcell covered a lot of ground in center; Redick was good all season; both pitchers got better. So we’re in pretty good shape for next year.”

Ross and assistant Jenn Strohman have already signed promising recruits to fill needs for next year – and more.

“They’ll add competition to the sophomores which will only make us better,” Ross said.

Despite the bad weather start, an all-weather field enabled the Blue Devils to play 58 games, the second most in the nation and their 38 wins were more wins than Jayhawk co-champion Johnson County played (24-12). Wins over nationally ranked teams included Highland (No. 5), Crowder (No. 10) and JCCC (No. 16) – and league co-champion Hesston 6-5 in the regional semifinals that was especially special.

“I’m super proud of the way they came back in the regional after being behind 5-0,” Ross said. “It showed what kind of team this was. They could have easily thrown in the towel. And we beat some good teams this year so I’m really excited about the future of this program.”

All-American Nija Collier to see another national title

NJCAA Player of Year chooses NCAA DII power Central Missouri over DI non-contenders

With head coach Joe McKinstry and assistant coach Timeka O’Neal as her witnesses, KCKCC All-American Nija Collier officially makes her commitment to play basketball at the University of Central Missouri this coming fall. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

By nature, Nija Collier is not a greedy person – until it comes to national championships.

Leading Kansas City Kansas Community College to the 2019 NJCAA DII national basketball championship was not enough for the 6-foot sophomore who was named NJCAA DII National Player of the Year.

Turning down several offers from NCAA Division I colleges and universities, Collier committed to the University of Central Missouri (UCM) “to be in position to win a national championship again at a top Division II school rather than a lower Division I school.”

Few if any DII schools offer a better opportunity to win on a consistent basis than the Jennies of UCM. In the 36 years of women’s basketball, Central Missouri has had only two losing seasons. The 2018 national champions, the Jennies also won the national title in 1984 and have been to the national tournament nine times. Huge fan favorites in Warrensburg, the Jennies had one of their worst seasons (14-14) in 2006-2007 and still ranked 10th in the nation in attendance.

Central Missouri also made it possible for Collier to play immediately – something the Division I schools could not do.

“UCM really helped me out; they were the only one to do that,” Collier said. “Otherwise I would have had to come back to KCKCC to finish my credits. All I need is to take a science class. That was a blessing; they were waiting for me.”

In Collier, Central Missouri is getting the national and Jayhawk Conference Player of the Year plus her teammate, 5-9 guard Camryn Swanson.

“Everyone was super nice,” Collier said of their visit. “It was such a nice atmosphere. Everyone was smiling and happy to see us. It made us feel like we were already at home.”

The team leader in scoring (17.3), rebounds (9.7) and blocked shots, Collier shot 58.5 percent from the field.

The fact that Swanson, is also going to UCM was yet another factor in Collier’s decision.

“I’m real happy; she’s my best friend,” Collier said. “She has the same goal as I have, win a national championship.”

Their timing is also excellent. The Jennies graduate both of their top 3-point shooters, All-American Paige Redmond and Sydney Crockett, and both Collier and Swanson are outstanding in that department.

Collier was a 40 percent shooter from 3-point this season while Swanson’s 87 threes are an all-time KCKCC best. Ranked 23rd nationally this past season, UCM finished 27-5 after being eliminated from the DII tournament on a 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining.

Her ability to shoot from distance made Collier especially attractive during her visit to UCM.

“They had me playing the 4 and 5 positions when we started but there were people stronger than me so I think I’ll play the 3 or 4 because I can shoot and I can drive, not just one thing,” Collier said.

A vicious rebounder, Collier goes after missed shots with a vengeance.

“Sometimes I go up too soft but the second time I go up stronger and rip the ball down,” she said.

Collier’s goal coming out of high school was to play DI and she had her chances. Three DI schools right out of her back yard of the Detroit area offered – Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan along with Illinois State, Indiana State, Murray State and Delaware State.

“I got a lot of DI looks and could have gone D1 but when I stepped back I think this (UCM) is the best for me,” Collier said. “I know a lot of people were disappointed by my family and friends support me and that really matters. It means a lot.”

Blue Devils escape one elimination game, but not a second

JCCC ends 38-win KCKCC season 4-2 after Blue Devils blank Murray State 1-0

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

Kansas City Kansas Community College’s best softball season in more than a decade came to an end Sunday but not without a whale of a fight.

Faced with winning three games in one day, the Blue Devils won a pressure-packed 1-0 decision over Murray State (Oklahoma) in an elimination game and then had the tying runs on base in the bottom of the seventh before Johnson County escaped with a 4-2 championship game win in the NJCAA DI District D tournament in Topeka.

Advancing to the district semifinals for the first time since 2014, the Blue Devils finished the season 38-20 while Johnson County (24-12) advances to the NJCAA DII national tournament in Clinton, Mississippi, May 22-25.

“I thought we played well,” KCKCC Coach Lana Ross said. “We had a tough first game and then had to come right back and play a good team like Johnson County and played well in that one.”

Both games went right down to the final pitch Sunday starting with the 1-0 win over Murray State (25-21-1). Shay Grosstephan took a 5-hit shutout into the bottom of the seventh when Murray State mounted its only serious scoring threat of the game – a one-out triple to the fence in right-center field.

The hit brought Mackenzie Pinkerton on in relief and set up the play of the game – or maybe the season. Freshman third baseman Alaina Howe made a diving stop of a ground ball, scrambled to her feet and threw out the tying run at the plate for the second out of the inning.

“Alaina made a great play, saving a run and keep us from having to go extra innings,” Ross said.

The Aggies put the tying run on second on their only walk of the game but Pinkerton finished with a game-ending strikeout on a 3-2 pitch.

Grosstephan (13-6) not only got the pitching win but scored the game’s lone run in the top of the fourth inning. Leading off the inning with a single, she moved up to second on Kaylee Arnen’s sacrifice bunt and raced home when Alexis Rymer rifled a single to center.

Except for the seventh inning triple. Grosstephan allowed only two others Aggies to reach second base and three of the five hits she allowed came with two out. She struck out three and walked none. Rymer had two of KCKCC’s six hits. Arnzen, Grosstephan, Pinkerton and Devin Purcell had the others.

JCCC jumped in front 2-0 in the second inning of the second game, scoring the runs on three singles and an errant throw on a squeeze bunt. The uprising might have been worse had not Blue Devil catcher Brittney Beck caught a runner wandering too far off third.

KCKCC got one run back in the third on a single by Beck, double by Hannah Redick and Devin Purcell’s run-scoring sacrifice fly. The Cavaliers got that run back in the fourth on a one-out triple and a squeeze bunt and the game settled into a pitcher’s duel between Pinkerton and Kerrigan Dixon (15-4). JCCC added what proved to be a huge insurance run in the top of the seventh on a double and two-out single.

The Blue Devils quickly cut their deficit to 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Rymer leading off with a triple and scoring on a double by Pinkerton before they caught a bad break.

Breaking towards third on a Howe ground ball that was misplayed, Pinkerton was ruled out for interference for the game’s first out and Howe placed on first base. A single by Britney Smith put the tying runs on base before Dixon got Redick on a pop fly to end it.

Redick had two of KCKCC’s seven hits while Beck, Grosstephan and Smith added singles to Rymer’s triple and Pinkerton’s double. JCCC collected 10 hits off Pinkerton (16-10).