Defensively, Kansas City Kansas Community College's defending NJCAA Division II national champions gave up only 64.4 points a game during the 2016-17 season. However, the Lady Blue Devils could average only 67.0 points offensively.
Nevertheless, playing in arguably the toughest conference in the nation, the Blue Devils finished 18-14, only the 11h KCKCC team to win as many as 18 games in 39 years of women's basketball.
"Region-wise, we did what we were expected to do," said KCKCC Coach Joe McKinstry. "We won the games we probably were favored to win and lost the games in which we would not have been favored to win although I thought we had an opportunity to win both Labette games,"
The three teams that finished ahead of the Blue Devils in the Region VI standings all finished in the top 20 nationally – Johnson County No. 3, Highland No. 8 and Labette No. 15. It's the same region that produced the 2014 national runnerup (Highland) and the 2015 and 2016 national champions, JCCC and KCKCC. Region-wise, KCKCC finished in a tie for fourth with Fort Scott at 5-7 but as the No. 5 seed defeated the Greyhounds in the first round of playoffs at Fort Scott.
Inability to score was clearly the Blue Devils' No. 1 problem. "We struggled to score baskets all season long and had a lot of stretches when we went several minutes without scoring," said McKinstry. As a team, the Blue Devils shot just 36.9 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from 3-point line. Defensively, the Blue Devils limited opponents to 38.5 percent from the field and 30.1 from 3-point.
The only two players who saw heavy playing time in last year's drive to the national championship led the way in 2017. Brie Tauai, a 5-11 forward from Blue Springs, led the scoring with 14.9 points a game along with 6.4 rebounds; Brooklyn Wagler, a 5-8 forward from SM Northwest, led in rebounding with 8.3 per game along with 11.5 points and 2.7 assists.
Wagler finished third in Region VI in rebounding and fourth in field goal accuracy (.467) and Tauai was fourth in scoring and fifth in rebounding but according to conference coaches, it wasn't enough to earn all-conference honors for either. "I understand where we finished in the standings but compared with the statistics of some of the others on the team, they were both most deserving," said McKinstry.
In their two years, Wagler, Tauai and backup forward Kyliea Jarrett of Bonner Springs won 51 games against just 17 losses. "Brooklyn Wagler is exactly the kind of a player coaches ask for," said McKinstry. "She came here as a guard and started 67 of 68 games as an undersized forward. She was someone I never had to call plays for because she knew where she needed to be and because of her effort on every play. No one played harder.
"From a toughness standpoint, you could never question Brie Tauai's toughness, She played her entire freshman season with a significant shoulder injury and was slowed the second half of this season by a back issue. A very skilled player. Undersized as a post player, she has great hands, great footwork and is a pure shooter."
Jarrett averaged 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 points. "Kyliea put her dreams of being a nurse aside for a year so she could be a member of the team one more time," said McKinstry, "She worked her tail off every day and had a great attitude."
Others who will be lost are Millie Shade, a 5-11 forward from Lawrence Free State who was fifth in the region in 3-point accuracy (.371) and second in KCKCC scoring (12.0); 5-7 guard Kayla Horn, the assist leader (3.5) who averaged 7.4 points; 5-10 forward Aeriel Holiday, who averaged 8.8 points; and 5-6 Whitney Hazlett of Mill Valley, who averaged 4.0 points.
"Millie Shade, who started at Butler before being injured and missing a season, grew more and evolved more than anyone in the program over the last two years, not only as a player but in all aspects of being a young adult," said McKinstry. "If I'm in this job 30 years, I won't have as talented a guard as Kayla Horn, who worked hard at all aspects of her game and understanding management from the point guard position. She came a long way in one year.
"Aeriel Holiday shot the ball well from 3-point (.337) and almost singlehandedly beat a No. 7 ranked Des Moines Area team (27-4) with 30 points while Whitney Hazlett probably had the most growth and positive productivity over the course of the year after sitting out a season with a torn ACL. She gained a lot of confidence and was an important part of our team."
The loss of the sophomores leaves McKinstry with just one returnee, 5-9 guard Alix Wilson of St. Joseph (Mo.) Central, who averaged 2.3 points in 32 games including eight as a starter.
"We'll bring in a lot of new faces, players who can play right away," said McKinstry. "Being the No. 5 seed is not where I want this program to be."
Eight sophomores have closed out their basketball careers at Kansas City Kansas Community College (from left), Brie Tauai, Brooklyn Wagler, Kylia Jarrett, Millie Shade, Kayla Horn, Aeriel Holiday, Whitney Hazlett and Brooklyn Bockover, who played as a freshman but served as student assistant this season. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)