Like anything worth building, this took time.
For Hutchinson Community College women’s basketball coach John Ontjes, that process begins its final stage today as the Blue Dragons, 33-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation, take on Meridian (Miss.), 22-10, in the first round of the NJCAA Division I national tournament at the Bicentennial Center in Salina. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Hutchinson is the No. 2 overall seed, behind only Trinity Valley (Texas), another undefeated team at 32-0.
“It’s been a special year,” Ontjes said. “This is a very motivated group, very driven. And their goal is to win the (national) title.”
“That being said, we’ve been very good with our approach of taking one gamae at a time and not getting ahead of ourselves. We focus on our opponent and have learned not to look ahead.”
Hutchinson’s perfect season has been an experiment in consistency and unselfishness, beginning with star forward Jackie Patterson.
The top returning player in the Jayhawk Conference, Patterson found herself sharing the spotlight this season with sophomore transfer Laura Patrick, last year’s KCAC freshman of the year for Sterling.
Patrick, the Jayhawk West player of the year, averages 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Patterson, an All-Jayhawk West pick, averages 12 points and 7.8 rebounds.
“Laura was the final piece we needed,” Ontjes said. “It would have been easy for Jackie to be a little jealous but she understood what Laura was bringing to the team and there’s been no sense of (jealousy). Not from Jackie or from anybody else.”
The Blue Dragons have also started the same five players in all 33 games this season — Patterson, Patrick, Chelsea Small, Alysse Barlow and Lanicia Lawrence.
“In times like this, you always get nervous, but not really for yourself,” said Ontjes, who also led Hutchinson to the Region VI title in 2009. “You’re nervous for the kids, for them to be in the right place and to make the right play.”
Seward opens with Wallace State — Region VI champion Seward County (28-6) opens play in the NJCAA Division I men’s tournament today at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson against Wallace (Ala.) State (19-15).
The Saints are led by Jayhawk West player of the year Deverell Biggs, a 6-foot guard who averaged 16.9 points and 3.9 steals in league play.
Forwards Daveon Boardingham (6-7) and Wichita native Irvin Hollinger (6-5) buoy the Seward frontcourt.