Wife’s advice helps McKinstry, Blue Devils reach national tourney

No. 3-seeded KCKCC to face old rival Union County Tuesday at 8 a.m.

Advice from Carleigh McKinstry to husband Joe McKinstry helped KCKCC defeat Johnson County 67-59 in the Region VI championship game and gain a national tournament berth for the third time in six seasons. (KCKCC photo)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC sports information

Kansas City Kansas Community College will go into the NJCAA Division II national women’s basketball tournament as the No. 3 seed – thanks in no small part to Carleigh McKinstry.

“All the credit goes to my wife for our offensive game plan against Johnson County,” said KCKCC coach Joe McKinstry, whose Blue Devils will be seeking their third national championship in six years.

As the No. 3 seed, the Blue Devil women (20-2) will face an old rival in opening round play in the national tournament. Union County out of New Jersey, the team the Blue Devils defeated 84-59 in the 2019 championship game, will be the opening foe on Tuesday, April 20, on the campus of Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, North Carolina, an hour northwest of Charlotte. Tipoff is at 8 a.m. (CDT) and the game will be streamed on the NJCAA network at a fee.

KCKCC returns to the national tournament for the third time thanks to a 67-59 win over No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Johnson County Saturday in Wichita. It was McKinstry’s 150th win against 40 losses in his six years at KCKCC – with an assist from wife Carleigh.

“It was after our game at State Fair and my wife was saying how impressed she was with Ilka Elam scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds,” McKinstry said. “I said that it was possible because State Fair played a zone defense and Ilka did not have to worry about plays, she just had to post up and be strong. My wife said that Johnson County plays a zone. I was sitting in a DQ in Sedalia and it hit me, she’s right. We ran a zone offense Johnson hadn’t seen and we killed it.”

Ironically, KCKCC and JCCC could meet for a fourth time – in the championship game April 24. For the first time, an at-large berth was made available for the tournament because of the withdrawal of one region because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the No. 1 ranked team, JCCC was the obvious choice. Had KCKCC lost the title game, the No. 5 ranked Blue Devils would have been the most likely pick for the at-large berth because all the teams ranked ahead of them qualified for the national.

Union County will bring a four-game winning streak and 13-3 record into the national tourney. The Owls, who played just four conference games (3-1), are led by guards Samira Sargent (14.9 points a game) and Brianna Mills (11.8). Averaging 75.6 points a game, the Owls are sixth in the nation in both rebounds (47.5) and assists (19.1).

“They’re athletic with some size,” McKinstry said. “In the 2019 tournament, they were seeded No. 9 and they upset the No. 8 and No. 1 seeds so they’ve been in this position before.”

The Blue Devils are also led in scoring by a pair of guard, Tiaira Earnest (14.3) and Aliyah Myers (13.5), but will be without their second leading scorer, Hannah Valentine (13.6), who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the 15th game of the season.

However, they’ve added 6-1 freshman forward Jewell Hart, who scored 10 and 12 points in regional tournament wins over Labette and JCCC. Sidelined by an injury most of the season, the Truman High School grad has played just four games.

“I’m sure Jewell was a little motivated against JCCC,” McKinstry said. “She was recruited by Johnson County but because of injury, was not offered a scholarship.”

Balanced scoring, as usual, is the Blue Devil strength. Other scoring leaders are Faith Putz, 8.8 points; D.Q. Guillory, 8.3; Ikla Elam, 7.6; D.J. Guillory, 7.5; Mercer Roberts, 5.8; Lacy Whitcomb, 5.1; Trinity McDow, 4.2; and Aysia Arrowood, 2.6.

As a team, the Blue Devils are sixth in the nation in scoring (80.9), sixth in 3-point goals per game (8.0) and seventh in assists (14.9).