Rick Mauch — Special Contributor
Weatherford College Lady Coyote basketball coach Bob McKinley has high praise for his team from a season ago, the best the school has seen in some time. Still, he can’t help but wonder what might have been had the team’s leading scorer been around for more of the NJCAA Region 5 Tournament.
Six-foot sophomore forward/post JohVonna Darrington from Oklahoma City injured her knee in the second game of the tournament. But, it took double-overtime for the eventual regional finalist Odessa to upset the Lady Coyotes, 94-91, in the second round. The loss ended Weatherford’s season with a lofty 25-7 record.
“With her out there, offensively we’re as good as anybody — anywhere,” said McKinley. “You take 20 points off the floor and it’s a big difference. You could see the air go out of us.”
Darrington averaged 18.1 points and 7.9 rebounds on the season, good enough to earn First Team All-Conference honors. McKinley was named Coach of the Year in the league.
McKinley said Darrington’s rehab is about a month ahead of schedule. While her early season status is still uncertain, McKinley said he definitely expects her to be a factor by the time the team begins conference play in January.
Also back for the Lady Coyotes are 6-1 post Cleyder Blanco from Venezuela. Blanco averaged 15 points during the season and exploded for 27 points in the double-OT loss to Odessa.
“She was our sixth man,” McKinley said. “The girl is a beast. She’s going to do some great things for us this season. Cley’s confidence right now is off the chart.
“To have those kind of scorers back is great. It’s always wonderful to have players back, but those points are big.”
Sophomore Desiree King, a 5-7 guard from Levelland, also returns. Last season, she brought speed and quickness off the bench and McKinley expects her to move into a larger role this season.
Among the top newcomers who have grabbed McKinley’s attention are several transfers.
Waleska Perez is a 5-11 sophomore guard who transferred from New Mexico Junior College. She helped the Thunderbirds advance to the NJCAA Tournament last season and is a friend of Blanco. In fact, the two are from the same city — Caracas, Venezuela.
Bathsheba McMahon is a 6-2 sophomore forward/post and a transfer from the University of South Alabama.
Hailey Owens, a 5-5 sophomore guard, transferred from Lamar Junior College in Colorado, and 6-2 sophomore post Alexia Kelley is a transfer from Tyler JC. Also adding length to the roster is 6-3 Raquel Dent, who hails from Dallas.
Freshmen joining the team are 5-4 guard Brooke Rice (Lipan), 5-6 guard Bre Brooks (Tyler), 6-3 post Toma Zaleckaite (Palanga, Lithuania) and 6-foot forward/post Itiana Taylor (Pflugerville). WC also adds a local athlete to the mix in 5-11 guard Kaylee Brooks, from Weatherford High School.
“If expectations are met, this year’s team is better than last year’s,” said McKinley. “It could be a deeper team, too. Our freshmen group is really good.”
As usual, the Lady Coyotes are playing a challenging pre-conference schedule, one that includes perennial powerhouses Trinity Valley and Midland (twice), along with playing in the Tyler Classic.
Last season the Lady Coyotes climbed into the nation’s top 10 on their way to a share of the regular-season conference championship with Hill, each recording 12-2 records in league play. The Lady Coyotes were extremely tough at home (12-1), but were also good on the road (8-1) and on neutral courts (4-2).
So does that mean McKinley thinks his team will repeat as champs?
“I don’t know why not,” he said. “We’ve got really good size, good speed.
“We’re not going to be an easy team to beat, I know that.”