The Johnson County Community College women’s basketball program earned its bona fides long ago and its second national championship last season. The Cavaliers are accustomed to winning.
So when coach Ben Conrad says: “It is surprising we haven’t gotten beat. That’s not normal,” it’s apparent something is up.
JCCC begins postseason play Tuesday with a 30-0 record, the first time the Cavaliers have finished the regular season undefeated. All but two of those wins have come by double digits. Most of those double-digit wins have been margins rarely seen outside of video games.
Not only that, but Johnson County held the top spot in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II rankings from start to finish.
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“When we beat KCK here by 30, that’s when I knew,” said sophomore Erica Nelson, a Lee’s Summit North grad. “We just beat the No. 5, 6 team in the country by 30. When we beat Highland and they had 36 points the whole game. This is some UConn-type stuff. It’s like, ‘Wow, we can do this again.’ ”
The Cavaliers’ 86 points per game ranks second in the country, and the 46 points they allow per game ranks eighth.
“Defense throughout this whole season is where it all starts. You can’t get to offense if you don’t play defense,” said freshman Arielle Jackson, a Shawnee Mission Northwest grad.
When looking at the low numbers and lopsided 50-point wins, it might be easy to assume that the Cavaliers press and harass opponents into submission. Not so. Conrad isn’t a fan of speeding things up just for the heck of it.
“We’re so solid when we get in our half court, I don’t like getting out of position or giving anything up,” Conrad said. “If you were to describe our defense, the best compliment you could give me is we’re very solid. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re very deep, and we’ve got good talent. The kids keep coming at you in waves. That’s the big thing: the talent, the depth.”
It’s hard to improve on a national championship team, but Nelson thinks the Cavaliers have done that.
“Honestly I think this year’s team is better than last year’s team. I think we’re more locked in on the court and off the court than last year’s team,” Nelson said. “I didn’t think we could do it last year, there were so much weighing us down.”
JCCC has accomplished everything it set out to do thus far, a seventh consecutive 30-win season under Conrad and another Kansas Jayhawk Conference championship. The only question now is whether the Cavaliers can become the first NJCAA Division II women’s team to finish the season without a loss. The Cavaliers open NJCAA Division II play with a regional semifinal against Hesston at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cavalier Gymnasium. The Cavaliers are also host to the national tournament, which is March 15-19.
“Being 30-0, it’s not enough. We did what we did, we got conference, we won regionals,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like we want more. It’s not enough to just have a plaque and have a 30-0 record.”
Nelson’s teammates agree — they want to finish what they started. Conrad does too — but he won’t let the season be defined solely by what happens next.
“March is random. It just is. We judge ourselves best on how we did in March. What I’ve learned to do is try to keep that in perspective and understand you don’t want to discount what we’ve done over three or four months,” Conrad said. “This team has the pieces to make a run, moreso than last year. So it’s going to be an interesting couple weeks.”