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       20th ranked Lady Blue Devils return top six scorers, rebounders from 24-8 season

            The 2013-14 basketball season will go down as the best in the last 17 years of women's basketball at Kansas City Kansas Community and the fourth best season in history.

            But what the 24-8 record won't reflect is that six of those eight losses were to teams ranked in the top five Division II teams in the nation, No. 1 North Iowa, No. 2 Johnson County twice and No. 4 Highland three times.

            "There's two ways to look at it," says head coach Valerie Stambersky. "We played quality teams of which I'm proud – but it also shows where we need to go."

            Stambersky and the Lady Blue Devils took a major step in that direction this season. Ranked 20th in the final NJCCC final poll, the Blue Devils were ranked as high as ninth at one time – with high hopes of better things ahead.

All six of the top scorers and rebounders who finished the season will return next season.   "We're always looking to get players who are just as good if not better to get to the next level."

One of the highest scoring teams in KCKCC history at 74.8 points per game, the balance was exceptional with eight players averaging six points a game or more led by guards Rashaun Casey, who finished 15th in the Jayhawk Conference with a 13.8-point average; Imani White, who averaged 10.4 points; and point guard Cassidy Harbert, who led the Jayhawk in assists (6.15) and finished third in steals (3.3) while averaging 9.7 points and 6.9 rebounds. Her 197 assists are a freshman record and second all-time behind All-American Aneta Kausaite's 207.

Front-line returnees include 5-10 Janai Mitchell, who averaged 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds; 5-9 Iland Shurn, who averaged 8.5 points and led rebounding with 7.0 per game; and 6-0 Julia Garrard, who averaged 6.9 points and 6.5 rebounds. They will be joined by Alyson Weber, who averaged 3.1 points, and Eirenei Alesana, who averaged 2.7 and 2.3 rebounds.

A season-ending leg injury 11 games into the season cost the Blue Devils the only returning starter from last year, Samantha Hurst, who was averaging 12.6 points when she was injured. "Losing Samantha was significant," says Stambersky. "I don't think we'd have lost a couple of games had we had her."

Two top reserves, 5-11 Bailey West, who averaged 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds, and 5-foot Washington point guard Jamisha Crawford, who averaged 2.0 points, will also be lost.

However, Stambersky says, nothing came easy. "We had to work for everything we earned. We were constantly faced with injuries, suspensions, death in families, something to overcome at every turn and this group did a good job of buying in."

Because of the talent, the Blue Devils were able to step up the pace of play in 2013-14. "We've always lacked one component but this year we didn't," says Stambersky. "We had post players who could run the floor, guards who could get out and run and a point guard who could get them the ball."

While the Blue Devils were not able to get a win over the ranked teams, they got closer and closer with every meeting highlighted by a spectacular comeback that just fell short in a season-ending 62-58 loss at No. 4 Highland. "The last game was a highlight because of how hard they fought because we had been in similar situations with Highland and they did not fight back," says Stambersky.

            That big effort even carried over to the opposition. "I just wanted to let you know how impressed my wife and I were by the resiliency, determination and fight your players showed," e-mailed Doc Arnett, Highland's Director of Institutional Research and former girls' high school basketball coach. "I know such comments do nothing to lessen the sting and disappointment of a playoff loss after working so hard all season long but I hope that you might pass along to the team that their great spirit and teamwork showed through. Having been a girls basketball coach I have an inkling of how much work, effort and spirit it takes to accomplish what you all accomplished this year."

            KCKCC will have a new schedule with an old look in 2014-15. Labette will join JCCC, Highland, Fort Scott, Hesston, Brown Mackie and KCKCC in a seven-team Division II Conference while the Blue Devils will also face five past Division I rivals – Cowley, Neosho County and Allen County at home and Coffeyville and Independence on the road.

            Preparation for that schedule which will also include two classics at home and one at Hutchinson will begin immediately. "We've already stressed the importance of the off-season and we'll start right after spring break," says Stambersky. "This has been a fun year and a fun group to work with but now it's about getting better."




Sophomores (from left) Bailey West, Jamisha Crawford and Samantha Hurst received blankets with personal action photos for their two years of contributions to the women's basketball program at Kansas City Kansas Community College. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)