by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Just three games separate Kansas City Kansas Community College from the start of what shapes up as the deepest and most difficult Region VI Division II women’s basketball race in history.
Three Jayhawk Conference teams are ranked among the Top 11 teams in the nation in Division II and it was four before losses to four Top 20 teams dropped the Lady Blue Devils out of the nation’s elite.
The fine-tuning for the Blue Devils begins Thursday when KCKCC is host of Ottawa University junior varsity at 6 p.m. (previously announced as a 7 p.m. start).
Road games at Saint Mary junior varsity next Tuesday and William Penn junior varsity on Thursday wrap up non-conference play. Jayhawk play will begin Wednesday, Jan. 24, at arch-rival Johnson County.
Unbeaten Highland (16-0) is ranked No. 7, Johnson County (12-4) No. 9 and Labette (12-1) No. 11 in the latest NJCAA Division II national rankings while the Blue Devils are just outside the Top 20 at No. 22. More impressive, the conference has had teams in the NJCAA championship game in each of the last four seasons. Highland finished second in 2014, JCCC won in 2015, KCKCC took the 2016 national title and JCCC finished runnerup this past spring.
Playing 17 games before the holiday break, the demanding schedule caught up with the freshman-dominated Blue Devils, who have lost three of their last four games. At 13-4, all four losses have been to nationally ranked teams – No. 11 Wabash Valley in Division I and No. 14 North Arkansas, No. 15 North Central Missouri and No. 17 Des Moines Area in Division II. On the plus side, the Blue Devils hold wins over both North Ark and North Central.
With only two sophomores, veteran guard Alix Wilson and Tampa transfer Ally Lollis, freshmen have provided 93 percent of the Blue Devils’ scoring and 94 percent of the rebounding this season.
“For a very young and inexperienced team to have 13 victories at this point is great,” KCKCC coach Joe McKinstry said. “We are still learning a lot but it’s always best to keep moving forward and learning while still getting W’s. However, I think our group knows that we could have a couple of more victories had we handled a couple of situations better. But that’s how this game goes.”
Three Blue Devils are averaging in double figures and four rank among the top five in offense in the division. At 5-9, scoring leader Kisi Young ranks fourth in conference scoring (15.5), first in field goal accuracy (60.5 percent) and third in rebounds (9.1); 6-0 Nija Collier leads the conference in rebounding (10.4) and is averaging a double-double with 11.5 points game; and 6-1 Lillie Moore is averaging 10.5 points and is fifth in field goal percentage (.540). Ashley Daniels, a 5-7 guard from Schlagle, is fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (.404).
The balance runs deep with six other Blue Devils averaging four points or more per game. Piper guard Miya Ford is fourth at 7.7 followed by oft-injured Caroline Hoppock (6.5), Daniels (6.1), Tee Martin (5.7), Camryn Swanson (5.4) and Alix Wilson (4.4). Caitlyn Stewart leads in assists with 4.2 followed by Young (2.6) and Martin (2.4).
“A tough road ahead,” McKinstry said. “Just three games before the 10-game conference-region season begins. As usual our conference is extremely talented and we will be in a battle night in and night out. But I’m excited to see how our team attacks what lies ahead. I think we have the capability to be in the hunt if we can build on what we’ve done to this point.”
After opening league play at JCCC Jan. 24, the Blue Devils are home for four of their next five conference games starting with Hesston on Saturday, Jan. 27.