BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — When Kayton Cole committed to play for Kyle Bent and the Danville Area Community College women's basketball program she didn't even know if she would be part of a winning team, let alone a conference champion.
But on Saturday afternoon at the Mary Miller Gymnasium, sophomores Kayton Cole, Kamaren Cole and Megan Hiner and the rest of the Lady Jaguars accomplished something that hasn't happened in 16 years at Danville Area Community College.
With a 70-57 victory over John Wood Community College, the Lady Jaguars captured a share of the Mid-West Athletic Conference championship, sharing the title with Parkland, who beat Lincoln College 94-48 on Saturday.
"I didn't even think we were going to have a winning season,'' said Kayton Cole, a redshirt sophomore from New Albany, Ind. "The program was something like 2-24 the year before I came here. I just wanted to try to help this program win some games and develop myself as a player.''
In her three seasons, including a injury redshirt season a year ago, the Lady Jaguars have had three straight 20-win seasons.
"I definitely feel good about coming back for this season and doing something good,'' she said. "This was a reason that I came back.''
Kamaren Cole, a sophomore who has played the past two seasons, pointed out that this is the first-ever Mid-West Athletic Conference title for the women's program.
"We have set the framework for this program and for the great things that are still to happen in this program,'' said Kamaren Cole. "We were not losing this game. We were prepared to fight for this conference title, and we definitely wanted this game more than they did.''
And that was evident as the Lady Jaguars (21-9 overall, 9-1 in the M-WAC) only trailed once — 2-0 after a basket by John Wood's Ashlyn Fore. DACC responded with 10 straight points with Kelsie Ratliff knocking down two of her game-high six 3-pointers.
" Kelsie may be one of the best shooters that I've had here in four years,'' Bent said. "She took a couple of questionable 3s, making one and missing one, but shooters shoot and she needs to keep pulling the trigger for us.''
Kayton Cole admitted the team is always telling Ratliff to shoot the ball.
"Even if she misses, we just need to get her into a rhythm and then she will get her confidence going,'' Kayton Cole said. "When that happens, everyone on the team will have confidence and we will get things rolling.''
The Lady Jaguars had their confidence tested during this conference title run.
Hiner, who was averaging 8.3 points and 4.0 rebounds a game, was injured in the team's only conference loss — 91-77 at Parkland. Bent admitted that her absence was definitely felt by the Lady Jaguars, especially by the seven freshmen, who looked up to Hiner.
"That's where Kayton and Kamaren really stepped up,'' Bent said. "They have both been through that before and they just took over. They rallied the team and Megan is still very involved with this team. She is at every practice and she's like a coach on the bench.''
Kamaren Cole admitted the loss of Hiner was an eye-opener.
"It was hard because we have a bunch of young players,'' she said. "When we got them calmed down and made them realize that it would okay, we became closer as a team. We just relied on each other and had faith in each other.
"Things are not always easy, you are going to face adversity. We came back even stronger.''
The Lady Jaguars secured its fourth straight victory with defense. The Trail Blazers committed 27 turnovers, leading directly to 21 points for the Lady Jaguars.
"We wanted to mix it up early, but we got into some foul trouble,'' Bent said. "So we just stuck with the zone, the kids bought into the game plan and they executed it.''
Not only did DACC women's basketball team follow their coach's instructions for this game, but they also remembered something he said before the season started.
"If we got to 20 wins, I told them I would wear a bow tie on sophomore day,'' Bent said. "These girls don't forget anything.''
Actually for the second time this year, the team led by the Cole sisters bought Bent a brand-new bow tie to wear during the game.
"We're not sure about coach's style, so we had to make sure he looked good,'' Kayton Cole said.
Bent pointed out the other time he wore a bow tie was after his team won in overtime at Kankakee. The Lady Jaguars are now 2-0 in games where he wears a bow tie.
"I hope this doesn't turn into a every game thing,'' he said. "It takes a while to tie this baby.''
And that's because it wasn't a clip-on.
"Oh no, this is the real deal,'' he said.
According to the players, Bent might have to wear another bow tie this season.
"We got 20 wins and a conference title, that's two of our three goals,'' Kamaren Cole said.
The next goal is a Region 24 title and the DACC, seeded third, will open the tournament on Wednesday with a 6 p.m. contest at home against Lincoln Land Community College.
Ratliff was the leading scorer with 20 points, while Kayton Cole and Kamaren Cole each chipped in with 13, while Brianna Jones had 10 for the Lady Jaguars.
Mid-West Athletic Conference Conf Overall W-L W-L Danville Area 9-1 21-9 Parkland 9-1 21-9 John Wood 6-4 14-15 Lincoln Land 4-6 13-13 Lewis & Clark 1-9 8-20 Lincoln 1-9 2-25