Kansas City Kansas Community College sophomores Cheyenne North and Joe Lendway proved how far strong, veteran leadership can carry a basketball team.
North and Lendway helped to make March 3 the greatest day ever for the Blue Devils’ women’s and men’s basketball programs.
It started with the women’s team knocking off NJCAA Division II national champions Johnson County Community College 63-56 in the Region VI championship game at Hartman Arena in Park City, Kan. Johnson County entered the game 31-0 and ranked No. 1. Twenty-two days earlier, the Cavaliers beat KCKCC by 30 points.
“I told the team before the game, whatever your mind-set is will dictate the outcome of this game,” KCKCC women’s basketball coach Joe McKinstry said. “If you believe you can win and put yourself in situations to be ahead at the end of the game, your chances are better.”
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It is only the second time in school history that the women’s team has advanced to the national tournament. KCKCC, 29-3, will open the 16-team national tournament — which runs March 15-19 at JCCC — as the No. 4 seed. The Blue Devils will face No. 13 seed Waubonsee (Ill.) at 11 a.m. March 16 in the first round.
“I specifically put a lot on Cheyenne’s shoulders this year,” said McKinstry, a graduate of Oak Park High School. “She is a fantastic talent with unbelievable ability. She is our leader.
“We wouldn’t have gotten to Thursday if it wasn’t for her on Tuesday (March 1). She was phenomenal against the conference player of the year and basically had a look in her eye and we could see it in her. She has that ability. When she wants it, it is going to be hard to stop her.”
North credits KCKCC and McKinstry for putting her in this position.
“Prior to coming here, I wasn’t enrolled in any school,” North said. “I came here it was my fresh start. It has definitely molded me into a better person and a better basketball player. It will definitely help me deal with adversity down the line.”
After the KCKCC women’s team pulled off a stunning upset, the KCKCC men’s team accomplished something just as remarkable. The Blue Devils beat Brown Mackie 77-66 and earned its first berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
The Penn Valley Community College men also reached the national tournament. The Scouts won the District XIII title with a 99-91 victory over North Arkansas. Penn Valley opens the national tournament against top-seeded Triton (Ill.) at 6:30 p.m. March 15 in Danville, Ill. KCKCC opens the next day at 11 a.m. vs. No. 4 seed South Suburban (Ill.).
When Lendway arrived at KCKCC from Lansing High School, he looked at the banners of all the sports at the school and noticed that men’s basketball was the only banner that didn’t have one year listed under conference title, regional title, national appearance and national championship.
“I thought to myself that is going to be my goal to put something on that banner,” said Lendway, who is vice president of the student senate at KCKCC. “Last year we came really close. Armoni Shorter told me last year we are going to make it back and we are going to win it.”
A year ago, the Blue Devils entered the Region VI championship game on a nine-game winning streak.
This season, KCKCC lost its final two regular-season games, but in the loss at Fort Scott, KCKCC men’s coach Kelley Newton, saw something he liked in his players.
“We went into halftime down 13,” said Newton, who graduated from Wyandotte High School. “In the second half, for the first time all season, I saw a different team. We scored 52 points in the second half.
“My postgame speech was quick. I was actually smiling. I said we finally figured something out. I felt good about our team going into the tournament.”
Lendway is one of the players that brought a strong work ethic to the Blue Devils, who are 22-11.
“I really feel we wouldn’t be here without Joe,” Newton said. “He gets better every year. He is worker. I think the world of him. He is the staple of our program the last couple of years.”
For McKinstry, March 3 will be a date he won’t forget. Last year McKinstry was an assistant coach for the KCKCC men’s team. He took over the women’s team this season.
“It is awesome,” McKinstry said. “I told coach Newton this weekend, I got two wins. We stayed after our game to support the men. The men’s game, I was in the stands nervous like a little kid. I was cheering. It is special. I know how hard he has worked and how hard they have worked.”