By RICK MAUCH — Special Contributor
The Weatherford College Lady Coyote basketball team is hoping to use its pre-conference success as momentum to a league championship.
The WC men’s team is hoping lessons learned from a hard run through pre-conference can be used to find success in league play.
Either way, the games that count the most are the ones played for the remainder of this 2012-13 season.
“The point we try to make is what you do early doesn’t count unless you do it in conference also,” said Coach Bob McKinley, referencing the Lady Coyotes. “But I feel confident we can keep this up in conference play.”
The Lady Coyotes entered the season expecting to challenge for the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference (NTJCAC) and Region V championship in Lubbock, Mar. 7-10. Nothing has changed.
In fact, they might be even stronger now that the second half of the season is under way, McKinley said.
McKinley is hoping six-foot freshman forward/post Itiana Taylor (ankle) and sophomore guard Hailey Owens (foot ligament) will return from injury. Also, sophomore guard Waleska Perez, a transfer from New Mexico Junior College, will be eligible to play, he said.
“I.T. is one of the toughest players in our region. She could be our leading rebounder,” said McKinley. “Perez gives us a six-foot guard.”
None of the three played in a loss at Western Texas, a game in which the Lady Coyotes had only seven players.
“If we’re at full-strength, or even close, we’re a heck of a team,” said McKinley.
The Lady Coyotes have been ranked as high as the top five in the NJCAA this season. They returned from the holiday break ranked 16th nationally. McKinley believes their biggest challenge will come from Collin College, which entered the second half of the season No. 15.
“Collin’s going to be good. I saw their one loss they had to Tyler, but they are a very good team,” said McKinley.
But McKinley warned that both Weatherford and Collin could be in for a surprise or two if they only look to each other as a challenge.
“Numbers one through six or even seven in our conference are as good as they’ve ever been,” he said.
The Lady Coyotes entered the second half of the season as the nation’s top scoring team with an average of 96.7. They are fueled by freshman guard Bre Brooks’ 20 points per game, tops in the NTJCAC and second nationally, while sophomore forward/post JohVonna Darrington ranked third nationally and second in the league at 19.6.
Brooks also stood second nationally in assists (8.1) and atop the conference.
A couple of Lady Coyotes entered league play averaging in double figures, sophomore post Cleyder Blanco (12.6 points, 10.4 rebounds) and Darrington (10.1 rebounds).
In fact, five Lady Coyotes came into conference averaging double figures in scoring, including sophomore guard Desiree King (12.8) and sophomore post Alexia Kelly (11.6).
“We’ve got a chance to be really good,” said McKinley.
While the Coyotes have struggled this season and entered league play several games under .500, the team has several reasons to believe they could challenge for a return trip to the Region V Tournament in Lubbock.
Defensively, they ranked at the top of the NTJCAC at the holiday break (60.75 points). And leading scorer, sophomore guard Deon Willis, ranked sixth in the conference (13.5).
Also, 6-8 sophomore forward Kesse Bernard ranked fifth in rebounds (7.6) and third in offensive boards (3.4), while 6-10 sophomore forward Eric Stubbs’ 1.2 blocked shots per game was fourth.
Both teams begin conference play at home against McLennan on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled at 2 p.m. for the women and 4 p.m. for the men, at the Betty Jo Crumm Graber Athletic Center.