March Madness comes to Johnson County

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By James Howey

The top junior college women’s basketball teams will descend upon Johnson County and JCCC for the Division II Women’s National Tournament, starting on March 18. Many great players and coaches will be on display and the tournament will be the ultimate challenge for the team that comes out on top.

The Highland Community College Scotties enter this tournament as the number two seed with a 30-2 record on the season and have defeated very tough competition from the JCCC Cavaliers to get to nationals.

The Scotties don’t feature one standout player but they do have a well-balanced team all around and have turned Highland into a basketball powerhouse.

“We have been blessed with some outstanding young ladies who were willing to work; that may seem simple but it is really the basis of our program,” Highland coach BJ Smith said. “We have had very willing kids that would work as hard as it took to change the culture here at Highland.”

Another large favorite coming to Overland Park is the North Iowa Area Community College Trojans who are the number one seed in the tournament and has a record of 31-2 on the season. The Trojans have the second leading scorer in the tournament, sophomore Chelsey Jacox, who averages 22.7 points per game. Coach Keli Terrell has helped turn the program completely around in her three years as head coach going from 12-19 to a top seed in nationals.

“We set some lofty team goals but this team understood it would be a process and if they bought in, those goals were attainable,” Terrell said.

A strong sophomore class has been another reason for the turnaround.

“We came into this season with 10 returners and they weren’t satisfied with how our season ended last year,” Terrell said. “They set an immediate example for the freshman in the classroom and on the court.”

According to Terrell, the depth the Trojans possess is vital for their chances in the tournament.

“We believe the depth, along with the experience of this team is something that will help us make a run in the tournament,” Terrell said. “We may have not been around for 20 years, but this team fought battles to get here.”

The Chesapeake College Skipjacks are bringing freshmen guard Ashley Pegram who averages 23.5 points per game which is the most of any player in the tournament.

Last year’s defending champion, The Louisburg College Hurricanes, are back to defend their crown under first year head coach Shay Hayes.

“I have a great group of players who have worked hard since August,” Hayes said. “We hit some bumps in the road along the way, but we persevered.”

Another successful program returning to nationals is the Monroe College Mustangs. With four years under head coach James Robinson Jr., the school has had a stellar record of 103-18 and looks to continue the success of the program in this tournament.

“We feel that one of the keys to our success this season was trusting in the benefits of holding each player accountable for their own growth and development on and off the court, especially in the classroom,” Robinson said. “Each player realizes that they have to be a positive movement by themselves so that we can be a force when we are together.”

Expect this tournament to be highly competitive on all levels, with great teams vying for the coveted national championship title.

“There will only be one team happy at the end of any national tournament,” Smith said. “You have to stay healthy, make the plays you are supposed to make and stay focused on your goal amidst all the distractions.”

Contact James Howey, sports editor, at jhowey@jccc.edu.

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