DEEP, VETERAN LADY BLUE DEVILS TO PLAY UP TEMPO BASKETBALL
Six sophomores return from 24-8 team; KCKCC home opener Tuesday, Nov. 4
The toughest competition for Kansas City Kansas Community College's basketball Lady Blue Devils may not come on the playing court – but getting on the court.
With four returning starters from last year's 20th ranked team in Division II, two standout transfers who came in at the semester break and an outstanding freshman corps, the battle for playing time will be the most competitive in Valerie Stambersky's 15 years at the Blue Devil coaching helm.
And that's good because Stambersky promises a "much more aggressive, up tempo game – both offensively and defensively" – that will make the most of the Blue Devils' obvious depth. "When we substitute, there should be no letup whatsoever," says Stambersky. "All can play defense and all can score in some capacity, some off the dribble, others from three."
The Blue Devils open play Tuesday, hosting Missouri Valley's JV at 8 p.m. and the follow it up with the annual Keith Lindsey Classic when they take on Ellsworth Nov. 14 and Penn Valley Nov. 15.
Six sophomores return 63.5 percent of the scoring from last year's team that finished 24-8, the best record in 17 years, and came within an eyelash of reaching the Region VI finals. Playing on its home court, Highland edged KCKCC 62-58 and went on to finish second in the nation.
Julia Garrard of Bentonville, Ark., who finished fourth in rebounding last year at 6.5 per game, is the only 6-footer on the roster. "We're not big inside but we're bigger at the guard position and quicker and will get up and down the floor faster," says Stambersky, who is not shy about using a one post, four guard offense.
Cassidy Harbart, a 5-6 guard from Wichita Northwest, heads the returnees after earning honorable mention Division II All-American honors last season. The Jayhawk leader in assists (6.32) and third in steals (3.42), Harbert was also second in team rebounding (6.9) and fourth in scoring (9.7).
Rashaun Casey, a 5-8 guard from Bentonville who led the Blue Devils in scoring at 13.8, and 5-11 Janai Mitchell, who averaged 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds, also return from last year's starting lineup along with top reserve 5-9 Iland Shurn of Bishop Miege, who led in rebounding (7.0) and averaged 8.5 points, and 5-9 Eirenei Alesana of Long Beach, Cal., who averaged 2.7 points.
Two high school teammates from St. Louis who joined the KCKCC squad the second semester, 5-7 sophomore Cierra Gaines and 5-7 freshman Erin Anderson, also figure heavily in the Blue Devil plans. Gaines, who averaged 12.7 points and 5.6 rebounds, transferred from Merrimac, Anderson from Southwestern Illinois after being injured and sitting out her freshman season.
Harbert and Anderson will be joined by two promising freshmen at the point guard position, 5-4 Aricca Day of Des Moines East and 5-5 Artasia Marshall of Memphis East while 5-7 Ky'Ana French of Milwaukee will join Casey and Gaines at shooting guard.
Three frosh, 5-8 Sierra Roberts of SM South; 5-8 Frankie Oropeza of Bishop Ward; and 5-10 Janay Jacobs of Wichita Kapaun Mt. Carmel, are prime prospects at small forward while Mitchell, Shurn, Alesana and freshmen Victoria Smith (5-9) of Basehor-Linwood and Cheyenne North (5-11) of Gallatin, Tenn., are contenders at a deep forward position. Garrard, a furious defender who averaged 6.9 points and 6.5 rebounds, and Shurn will split the post position.
Playing in preseason scrimmages, Stambersky has been most pleased with the enthusiasm of her squad. "This team has high energy and works hard. All the feedback I'm getting from coaches at four-year schools and fellow community college coaches is how high energy they play." Her biggest concern? "There's always concern that everyone stays healthy," says Stambersky, who is being assisted by Shaun Burki and Alicia Roth..
In addition to the Keith Lindsey Classic Nov. 14-15, the Blue Devils will host the four-team KCKCC Classic Nov. 21-22 and play in the Hutchinson Classic Nov. 28-29.
The Blue Devils will vie with six teams for the Jayhawk Division II championship – Labette, Brown Mackie, Hesston, Highland, Fort Scott and Johnson County – while five former Jayhawk teams are back on the schedule, Cowley, Neosho County and Allen County at home and Coffeyville and Independence on the road.
KCKCC's basketball fortunes for 2014-15 will be built around the veteran sophomore leadership of (front row, from left0 Rashaun Casey, Cierra Gaines, Eirenei Alesana and Cassidy Harbert; (second row) Janai Mitchell, Erin Anderson, Alyson Weber, Iland Shurn and Julia Garrard. (KCKCC Photo by Mark Greathouse)