KCKCC softball two-time Academic All-American team

With a 3.46 grade point average, the KCKCC softball team earned two Academic All-American designations for 2018-19, Team members are front row, from left, Jennica Messer, Brittney Beck, Hannah Redick, Shaylun Grosstephan, Mackenzie Pinkerton, Alexis Rymer and Kaylee Arnzen; second row, head coach Lana Ross, Devin Purcel, Parish Forshey, Gracie Gentry, Britney Smith, Faith Maslak, Alaina Howe, trainer Kinsey Huwaldt and assistant coach Jenn Strohman. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

Kansas City Kansas Community College’s softball team made a sweep of Academic All-American team honors this past spring – which should come as no surprise.

In 15 years of college coaching, teams coached by Lana Ross have achieved Academic All-American honors every year – 13 years at Iowa Western and one year each at Fort Scott and KCKCC.

Designated an Academic Team of the Year by the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association), the Blue Devil program ranked No. 23 among 135 teams academically. With a grade point average of 3.46, the Blue Devils were also recognized nationally as an Academic All-American team by the NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association).

Seven Blue Devils earned NJCAA Academic All-American honors including five on the first team with 4.00 grade point averages – three sophomores, Kaylee Arnzen, first baseman from Pampa, Texas; Gracie Gentry, infielder from Turner; and Britney Smith, second baseman from Basehor-Linwood; and two freshmen, shortstop Hannah Redick of Shawnee Mission North; and pitcher Shaylun Grosstephan of Girard, Kansas.

Devin Purcell, a freshman outfielder from Eudora, was named to the second team with a 3.90 GPA; and Alexis Rymer, a freshman outfielder from Piper, was named to the third team with a 3.72 GPA.

All seven were also recognized as NFCA All-American Scholar Athletes along with Brittney Beck a sophomore catcher who graduated from Ellinwood High School in Bushton, Kansas.

“Our team goal is to have every athlete with a 3.00 GPA or better,” Ross said. “Basically, that’s the minimum, we strive for 3.5. I tell our players they are not doing it for me, they are doing it for themselves; that it will affect their future and is always going to be important.”

Study hall begins the second week of classes.

“No exceptions; miss study hall and they don’t practice and they don’t play,” Ross said.

The number of study hours required each week depends on an athlete’s grade point average.

“I make grade checks every three weeks to see if our players are on track,” Ross said. “If someone’s in trouble and needs help academically, we get a tutor or whatever they need.”

The challenge of Ross and assistant Jenn Strohman will increase in 2019-2020. In addition to seven holdovers from this year’s team, they’ll have 15 incoming freshmen.

KCKCC volleyball team academic All-American four years in row

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

Led by three Academic All-Americans, the 2018-2019 Kansas City Kansas Community College team is an NJCAA All-American Academic team.

It’s the fourth straight year the Blue Devils have been designated at Academic All-American team.

“One of my proudest accomplishments,” coach Mary Bruno-Ballou said. “The ability of our student-athletes to prioritize their academics and be successful academically is something I value very highly.”

Allayah Stillwell (KCKCC photo)

Allayah Stillwell, a freshman middle-blocker who graduated from Summit Christian in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, earned first-team Academic All-American honors with a 4.0 grade point average.

Kelli Sleefe (KCKCC photo)

Sophomore Libero Kelli Sleefe of Andover Central earned second-team honors with a 3.83 GPA,

Gracie Golay (KCKCC photo)

Freshman setter Gracie Golay of Wichita’s Trinity Academy is a third-team selection with a 3.68 GPA.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“This past season, 13 of our 15 athletes had a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher for the 2018 fall and 2019 spring semesters,” Bruno-Ballou said.

Even more telling is what happens next.

“About 50 percent of our athletes continue to play at four-year programs, and 50 percent choose to prioritize their academics at the next level,” she said.

Two of this year’s four sophomores will continue their volleyball careers. Middle blocker Randi Johnson of Lee’s Summit at NCAA Division II Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota; and setter Kelsey Rankin of Omaha at Mid-America Nazarene University, an NAIA member in Olathe.

The other two are bypassing more volleyball to pursue lifetime careers. Sleefe is enrolled in the dental hygiene program at UMKC; setter Paige Dresslaer of Diamond, Missouri, is pursuing a career in nursing at Pittsburg State.

And that trend will continue as neither of the two freshmen Academic All-Americans plan to play collegiate volleyball after the 2019 fall season. Stillwell will enroll in the University of Kansas pre-med program in January; Golay will enter the nursing program at KCKCC.

“I’m thrilled with the academic success of our team,” Bruno-Ballou said. “The demands of being college athletes goes far beyond games and practices. Not only are some of our athletes fulltime students and fulltime athletes, they also work. So to be able to juggle all the demands and be successful is a real tribute to their hard work and efforts.”

Academic assistance is also provided by Bruno-Ballou and assistant coach Allyssa Lutgen.

“We provide assistance to athletes who might need a little extra help or need better study habits or help with time management but many are successful on their own,” Bruno-Ballou said.

Eight KCKCC soccer players headed to four-year universities

KCKCC soccer players signed to continue their careers at four-year universities include, top row, from left, Gustavo Palmieri, Grand Canyon; Reed Axthelm, UNC Greensboro; and Justin Hynes, South Carolina Upstate; middle row, Ethan Pfeifer, Rockhurst; Guilherme Grave, Oklahoma City; and Hector Valles, Mid-America Christian; bottom row, Fabian Keiblinger, Spring Hill; and Bruno Rovares, Shawnee State. (Photo illustration from Alan Hoskins)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

Four-year colleges and universities are finding a soccer bonanza at Kansas City Kansas Community College

Eight Blue Devils will be continuing their soccer careers including three at the highest level, NCAA Division I. That’s the most ever for the program directed by head coach Ruben Rodriguez and assistant Burke Slusher.

Headed for NCAA DI universities are Reed Axthelm, a sophomore mid-fielder from Riverton, Wyoming, who will compete for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Gustavo Palmieri, a sophomore defender from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona; and Justin Hynes, a freshman defender from Bishops Stortford, England, University of South Carolina Upstate at Spartanburg.

Ethan Pfeifer, a sophomore defender from Wichita Maize, and Fabian Keiblinger, a freshman goalkeeper from Sitzenberg-Reidling, Austria, have signed with NCAA Division II universities, Pfeifer at Rockhurst and Keiblinger at Spring Hill in Mobile, Alabama.

Three sophomores have been recruited by NAIA universities – forward Guilherme Grave, Oklahoma City University; mid-fielder Hector Valles of Valencia, Spain, Mid-American Christian University in Oklahoma City; and mid-fielder Bruno Rovares of Sao Paulo, Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. Grave played the 2016 and 2017 seasons at KCKCC and served as team manager the past season while completing his degree requirements.

That so many Blue Devils were recruited (only nine sophomores on the 2018 squad) is not by accident. The 2017 team qualified for the NJCAA DI national tournament for the first time in KCKCC history and the 2018 team led by Palmieri was named an All-America Academic team by the NJCAA. Boasting a 3.82 grade point average, Palmieri was named to the All-American Academic second team.

“I think our past success is a factor but the emphasis we put on academics is also a big reason why higher institutions are taking a look at our program,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’ve developed a good reputation of developing high quality student athletes and built a trust among schools actively recruiting our student athletes.”

There’s also emphasis on exposing Blue Devil players to four-year programs.

“We only play scrimmage games against four-year schools in the spring and fall pre-season,” Slusher said. The Blue Devils had scrimmages against five area colleges last season – Rockhurst, Benedictine, Park, Baker and William Jewell. Mid-America Nazarene is being added and “We’d love to schedule UMKC,” Slusher said.

NJCAA allows four playing dates in the spring and 22 in the fall.

“We’ve added some community colleges to our schedule this fall,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to be a tough schedule but I expect we’ll have even more players recruited this coming year.”