In 2019-20, Joe McKinstry started Kansas City Kansas Community College women's basketball season with just one returning starter – and still won 25 games.
So the fact he'll have only one returning starter for the 2021 is no reason for gloom and doom. In fact, "I think this group is as talented as any we've had," says McKinstry. Strong optimism coming off national championships in 2016 and 2019.
"Whether they come together and meld as a unit is another story. We're heavy on talent but light on experience and, like everyone else, we're going to have to adapt to what COVID has presented us and not let youth and inexperience get in the way of what we're trying to accomplish."
Tabbed to finish third in the Jayhawk Conference pre-season poll, play begins Wednesday, Jan. 20, at North Central Missouri and at Central Nebraska Saturday before the home opener against Park University JV Jan. 28
The Blue Devils will build around a quartet of veterans headed by 5-7 Aliyah Myers of Derby, who started 30 games last season. She'll be joined by 6-0 forward Mercer Roberts of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; 5-6 guard Tiara Earnest of Detroit Mumford; and 5-6 of Wichita Kapaun Mt. Karmal. Combined, they had 10 starting roles a 25-7 season with all seven losses to ranked teams.
Myers finished third in scoring as a freshman, averaging 11.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists, and finished the season with a 25-point performance against Region VI champion Labette. "She's as good at driving to the basket and getting to the rim as any guard we've ever had," said McKinstry. "And she can guard the 1 through 4 positions."
Mercer was second in rebounding (4.5) while averaging 4.3 points; Earnest averaged 6.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists; and Mayberry 7.4 points and 3.0 rebounds. "We are going to rely on Roberts for consistency at forward," says McKinstry. "She's a great rebounder who can contribute in a lot of ways. Earnest is lightning quick and very athletic. I'm excited for her experience to kick in and for her to feel more comfortable in the things we need from her. Mayberry is very strong and athletic. Very good as a ball defender, I look for her to increase her contributions on the offensive end."
Additional experience will come from two transfers. Hannah Valentine, a 5-9 forward from Platte County, transferred from Barton County where she averaged 8.0 points on a team that reached the DI regional championship game while 5-6 De'Jaria Guillory of Park Hill South had significant playing minutes at Southwest Baptist. A third transfer, 5-9 guard Aysia Arrowood of Valley Center, was a redshirt freshman at Cowley County.
"Valentine is a very high IQ player who does a little bit of everything and we hope her experience playing for a championship can be a great influence," says McKinstry. "Guillory is a super athletic guard who loves defense and that playing in a very tough NCAA DII conference will be a benefit. Arrowood is a big time shooter who we will rely on for constancy on the perimeter."
A trio of freshmen will add depth to the backcourt – 5-6 Lacy Whitcomb of SM South; 5-8 Faith Putz of Urbandale, Iowa; and DeQuaria Guillory, a younger sister of De'Jaria but who attended Park Hill. "Whitcomb is our only true point guard so the point guard position will be by committee," says McKinstry. "She's a very crafty player, enjoys getting teammates involved and is a tremendous shooter. Putz is an athletic guard whose ball-handling and athleticism makes her a threat from both guard positions, DeQuaria Guillory is a big, strong player who will used in a variety of ways including the point,"
The Blue Devils will have considerably more size than a year ago with the arrival of three freshmen – 6-0 Trinity McDow of Paola; 6-1 Ikia Elam of Pontiac, MI.; and 6-1 Jewell Hart of Truman High School; and the return of 5-9 Kiara Brown of FL Schlagle.
"McDow had a great fall; a high IQ player who can help around the basket and step out and shoot from the perimeter," says McKinstry. "With experience, Elam could be one of the best forwards in the league with her ability to block shots, rebound and a phenomenal motor. As a freshman at Truman, Hart was an all-stater but she's had two torn ACL injuries. When healthy, she's a very high impact player."
Brown also has been battling a series of injuries and illness. A top defender and scorer at Schlagle, she originally was a 2017 signee. "For all Kiara has gone through to put herself in position to be on the roster shows just how tough she is and a tremendous example for our other players," says McKinstry.
A schedule trimmed from 30 games to 22 will preclude the Blue Devils another 25-win season . "Much tougher schedule than last year," says McKinstry. "Three games against DI teams vs. one last year; 18 games against NJCAA teams; and playing in the toughest conference in the country."
The Jayhawk Conference had a streak of six years in a row of putting teams in the NJCAA DII Final Four ended when the COVID pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 national tournament. "It looks like a three-horse race between Labette, Johnson County and us," says McKinstry. "JCCC and us look about the same with returners; Labette has a real good returnee back." Jayhawk coaches agree, voting Labette No. 1, JCCC No. 2 and KCKCC No. 3 in the annual pre-season poll.