Statistically, Kansas City Kansas Community College ranks with the very best NJCAA Division II women's basketball teams in the nation.
No. 6 in the NJCAA poll, the Lady Blue Devils (14-2) rank in the Top 10 nationally in 10 categories including such critical areas as third in both points per game (91.9) and 3-point goals per game (9.4), fourth in defensive rebounds (33.7), fifth in field goal percentage (.485), sixth in assists (20.8) and 10th in total rebounds per game (49.9).
"The question now are we ready for the next step as far as being in contention for a conference championship," asks KCKCC Coach Joe McKinstry. "Our players, particularly the sophomores, have taken a long road to be in this position. Now they must prove they are deserving and doing what it takes to win the league."
Four games remain before the Blue Devils set off in pursuit of a Jayhawk Conference championship starting Tuesday against Saint Mary JV at 7 p.m. in Leavenworth followed by three non-conference games in a row at home – McCook Saturday at 4 p.m., Missouri Valley JV Jan. 16 and Southeast Nebraska Jan. 18.
The one key area where KCKCC has not excelled is turnovers – No. 70 with 18.4 per game in part because of the Blue Devils' rapid-fire offense that produces numerous possessions and more chances for turnovers. "If we can limit the turnovers and turn possessions into shots, even if we miss we still have a great opportunity to rebound it," says McKinstry. The Blue Devils are averaging 16.3 offensive rebounds per contest.
With five players averaging in double figures and two other averaging 7.3 points or more per game, the Blue Devils offer countless defensive problems led by the front line sophomore trio of 6-0 Nija Collier, 6-1 Lillie Moore and 5-10 Kisi Young. Together they average 44.1 points and 28.9 rebounds all are shooting 57 percent or better from the field.
Collier leads with 18.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 11 double doubles in 16 games. Moore is averaging 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds; Young 10.3 points and 8.9 rebounds. In the Jayhawk, Collier is first in scoring, second in rebounds and field goal percentage (.638) and third in 3-point percentage (.447); Young is No. 1 in field goal percentage (.643) and third in rebounds; and Moore fourth in scoring and fifth in rebounds.
Guards Camryn Swanson (11.7 points) and Lenaejha Evans (11.3) lead the Blue Devils in backcourt scoring while freshmen Brodi Bryd (8.5) and Caroline Hoppock (7.3) are solid scoring threats. Point guards are the leaders in assists – Lexy Watts at 3.8 and Caitlyn Stewart at 3.4. Stewart is also averaging 5.4 points, Watts 4.1.
The Blue Devils will also have 5-11 sophomore forward Lizzie Stark, a key performer last year who has only played three games this season because of a leg injury; and 5-8 freshman Carson Chandler of Sarcoxie, Mo., who has been added to the roster and will give additional depth to the back court.
"I feel we have a lot more balance in being able to score inside and from the perimeter," says McKinstry. "The experience from our sophomores as well as the freshmen at the guard position has really strengthened our guard play."
Playing in the toughest conference in the nation boasting the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, the Blue Devils will need maximum effort every night out. Unbeaten Johnson County (15-0) is ranked No. 1 in the nation; Highland No. 2 although the Scotties (13-1) suffered their first loss at Mineral Area 69-60 on Wednesday. At 14-2 and playing a comparable schedule to KCKCC, Fort Scott is ranked 14th nationally.
KCKCC's conference opener comes against Labette at home Feb. 23. "Labette started slow but is now 10-6 with two great wins before the break," warns McKinstry. "Every night will be tough!"