Lauren Jones drives up the court

Freshman Lauren Jones dribbles up the court in a scrimmage versus former NCCC players.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic currently happening in America has caused the National Junior College Athletic Association to halt all spring sports, as well as winter sports postseason activities. It has also impacted the Neosho County Community College Lady Panthers for the 2020-21 basketball season, though to a slightly lesser degree than other programs.

Following the Lady Panthers season – a campaign in which Neosho secured its best record (13-17) in 25 years – seventh-year NCCC head coach JJ Davis was urging his players to get in their postseason workouts, including 10,000 free throws, 3s and one-on-one moves, as well as 10,000 reps in the weight room.

But the stoppage of all activities ceased NCCC’s postseason tradition as well. Specifically, the Lady Panthers were in the middle of lifting weights before the pandemic took away winter and spring sports. Davis has faith in his players’ commitment, though.

“With that being taken away, that’s going to hurt us a little bit,” Davis said. “But now we have to trust (the team members). And that’s good for me. That’s a place that I haven’t been before where I was trusting them, believing in them. And I think they’re going to come out and show me that they want to continue to keep on winning.”

One aspect that will help the program continue its winning ways is knowing exactly who the recruits will be come next year. In fact, NCCC is just one signing away from having the entire 2020-21 team signed, sealed and delivered.

Assisting in this process is Davis’ wife, Lisa Davis, who is the unofficial recruiting coordinator. Lisa was instrumental a few years ago in finding sophomore guards Chrissy Brown and Jessica Jones. And this is customary, as Lisa locates the student-athletes, and Davis makes the calls and travels around the nation to recruit.

As a result of the teamwork between the two, NCCC already signed 10 women’s basketball players for the new year.

“My wife did a phenomenal job in the recruiting class,” Davis said. “...My wife was really special. She did a really good job. ... (She) got started early, and we’ve been blessed.”

The willingness to tackle recruiting ahead of time has blessed Neosho with more talented basketball players ready to make their mark on the court, despite the current pandemic adversely impacting many other aspects of sports. Point guard Destiny Stanford from Midland Lee High School in Midland, Texas – a first-team All-District player – leads the pack of newcomers. Stanford is brought in to replace Brown, a two-time All-KJCCC player, as well as a 2020 second-team All-Region player.

Replacing Jones, a two-time All-KJCCC player, will be Sara Hunt from Dallas. Hunt is a dynamic shooter who averaged 21.3 points and 5.4 assists on 46 percent shooting at Chisum High School.

An in-state recruit from Independence ready to continue her game with NCCC is point guard Jenna Eytcheson, who helped beat Chanute High School the second time around on Feb. 18 after putting up nine points and snatching four rebounds. Eytcheson was first-team All-SEK after leading her Lady Bulldogs to an 11-10 record and a first-round exit to Paola High School in the sub-state playoffs.

Aubrey Ball of Wellsville High School will also be a new kid on the block. Ball shot at a 57.5 percent clip last year and is brought in to replace sophomore post player Haley Stiger as an anchor in the middle.

While all these players, among others, are expected to play for NCCC next year, there is one more who needs to be signed. Davis, however, said that the student-athlete is on NCCC’s radar, and now it’s just a matter of containing and using the Zoom application in an effort to further entice the recruit.

“We’re not allowed to go out; everything has been halted on campus,” Davis added. “But, you just got to trust and have enough resources and communication with them that they’ll still pick you.”

NCCC’s sophomore players have mostly chosen their next destinations since their eligibility is up. Brown has yet to make her decision on a Division I college, while Stiger will move on to Northwest Oklahoma, Morgan Bolen will study at Emporia State University, Ashley Dillinger will graduate and focus on a career, and Jones will play basketball at Southern Arkansas.

“My hard word definitely has paid off and I still have a ways to go,” Jones said.

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