Lady Blue Devils defeated No. 1 basketball team while finishing with second most wins in 28-4 season
by Alan Hoskins
It was a very special season for Kansas City Kansas Community College women’s basketball in 2014-2015 – in many ways.
For the first time in history, the Lady Blue Devils defeated a team ranked No. 1 in the nation and on the No. 1 team’s home court. A 73-64 winner at Johnson County, it was one of only two losses (and most decisive) for the Lady Cavaliers, who would go on to win the NJCAA Division II national championship.
The Blue Devils also defeated Highland, the runnerup in last year’s national tournament, three times including a dramatic come-from-behind 54-53 win at Highland. Trailing 28-14 at the half, the Blue Devils won it on a pair of clutch free throws by Cassidy Harbert with two seconds remaining.
Cowley was routed 76-56 for the first time in Valerie Stambersky’s 16 years as head coach and the Blue Devils twice ran off nine-game winning streaks.
The 28 wins in a 28-4 season are the second most in KCKCC history. Only the 1996-97 team which finished fifth in the nation in Division I with a 35-2 record won more games. Of the four losses, all came to teams in national tournaments – Hutchinson (36-1), which finished second in Division I; Coffeyville (26-10), the Jayhawk East champion; and JCCC (34-2) twice. The second JCCC came in the Region VI championship game. Leading by just two points at the half, JCCC pulled away down the stretch for a 70-51 win and a berth in the national tournament.
The Blue Devils shared the regular season Division II championship with Johnson County with 11-1 records and finished in a tie for second with the Cavaliers (11-2) in the Jayhawk East behind Coffeyville (12-1),
But it was more than wins and losses that made the season very special for Stambersky.
“This team had a lot of talent but numerous teams have a lot of talent but they don’t play together as well as this group did,” Stambersky said. “The way this team bought into the program was something I really hadn’t had and made it a special group.”
The foundation, Stambersky said, was laid by returning freshmen from a 2013-14 team that had finished 24-8. Four starters returned from that team, Cassidy Harbert, Janai Mitchell, Rashaun Casey and Julia Garrard and reserves Iland Shurn, Eirenei Alesana and Alyson Weber were joined at the start of the 2014 spring semester by two transfers, Cierra Gaines and Erin Anderson.
“Cierra and Erin came in the spring knowing they were not going to play,” Stambersky said. “We’ve had others come in and just go through the motions but Erin and Cierra came in and helped us get better by pushing everyone to be better.”
Gaines and Anderson joined Harbert, Mitchell and freshman Cheyenne North in the starting lineup this season but the talent was so deep that Stambersky was never hesitant about putting a second unit of Garrard, Casey, Shurn, and freshmen Sierra Roberts and Aricca Day on the floor. The result was six players averaging seven or more points a game and three more with more than five points a contest.
The highest scoring team in KCKCC history, the Blue Devils averaged 81.9 points a game, outscoring opponents an average of 26.0 points per contest. They also out-rebounded foes 47.8-36.8 per game and held opponents to just 34.1 percent from the field while averaging 42.6 percent.
Gaines led the scoring with a 14.1-point average and earned second team All-Jayhawk honors while North, a 5-11 freshman from Gallatin, Tenn., was a first team selection after averaging 11.5 points and leading in rebounding at 7.9 per game. Harbert, who led in assists (5.1) on the way to becoming KCKCC’s all-time career assist leader, earned honorable mention. Second in rebounding with 5.2 per game, Harbert was also fourth in scoring at 8.1.
Graduation losses will be heavy. In addition to Gaines and Harbert, the Blue Devils will be losing Mitchell, who was third in scoring (8.4) and rebounding (4.9); Anderson, the leader in steals (3.0) and second in assists (2.4) while averaging 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds; Casey, who averaged 6.1 points and 2.3 rebounds; Shurn, 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds; Garrard, a standout defender who averaged 4.0 points and 3.4 rebounds; and Alesana, 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds.
North heads the returnees along with Sierra Roberts, a 5-7 guard from SM South who was second in three-point goals behind Gaines while averaging 7.5 points and 2.6 rebounds; Arrica Daye, a 5-4 guard from Des Moines East who averaged 5.0 points and 2.2 assists; and Janay Jacobs, a 5-10 guard from Wichita Kapaun who average 2.4 points.
Alan Hoskins is the sports information director at KCKCC.