At one time the Moraine Valley Community College women’s basketball team took being Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference champions for granted. This season, the team wants to recapture the championship and prove they’ve got what it takes.
After a 2011-12 season that included a 24-9 overall record and 9-5 conference record with elimination in the NJCAA Region IV finals, head coach Delwyn Jones is ready to take his team farther. Jones is back at the Cyclone helm in his 13th season, which includes five conference championships. He is joined once again by assistants Jeff Larson, Kathleen Zulevic—both former Cyclones—and Sean Mackey.
All-Region and All-Conference second team leading returning scorer and guard Kelly Foley (Oak Lawn/5’6”) is back to take on a bigger role. Last year she averaged 10 points per game and was the complementary 3-point shooter to teammate Kim Young. Point guard Stephanie Karl (Lockport/5’6”) brings back her basketball intelligence to the Cyclones. Raynisha Dent (Shepard/5’9”) will play every forward position as she is strong in the post, can handle the ball and makes solid choices. Forward Shaneka Boyd (Rich South/5’8”) is back this year and is the most athletic player Jones has coached, and should make an impact with her speed and 10- to 15-foot shots. Forward Dena Hammad (Argo/5’8”) rounds out the sophomores, and has a keen knack for rebounding.
New to the Cyclone roster are several players who will be a contributing force. Transfer forward Camille Byrd (Harlan/5’11”) has “Scottie Pippen-like” abilities and is versatile enough to play every position. Another transfer, power forward Bridget Niemiec (Oak Lawn/5’11”), is a heady player who can score 15 feet out, is good around the basket and may play some center. The freshmen contingent includes several strong athletes. Guard Katie McGann (Providence/5’9”) can spread out the defense with her long-range shooting ability; guard Maggie Yandel (Stagg/5’8”) also can play forward, is a phenomenal defender and plays the passing lanes well; forward Jamilla Jones (Eisenhower/6’0”) was coveted by several junior colleges in the area because she is one of the best offensive post players who can play well on the perimeter; center Amber Hunter (Evergreen Park/6’0”) solidifies the team at the post and runs the floor better than people expect; guard Ashley Cunningham (Eisenhower/5’7”) is a former Cyclone volleyball player who is a good perimeter shooter; and Kayla McKinney (Shepard/5’6”) is a backup point guard that is a strong passer and can see the full court well.
The Cyclones have built a strong basketball program and expectations are high, which is why some people were disappointed with the 2011-12 season. Outsiders think Moraine Valley didn’t have a good run. However, Jones argues that they finished with more than 20 wins, were ranked seventh in the nation and were one loss away from advancing to the national championship. “We had a lot of talent last year but didn’t perform at the highest level. We had plans to win conference, but didn’t,” Jones said. “We haven’t won the championship in two years. I hope that changes.”
Although this year’s squad is generally physically smaller and not as talented as last year, the chemistry, character and drive of the team is enough to yield a winner. “We are fairly small in the post, but we have players that can handle the ball well. We can shoot well from the perimeter, and we’re pretty fast. The success of the season is predicated on being technically precise,” Jones said.
Other teams have already written off the Cyclones, but Jones knows his crew has what it takes to go all the way. “We have decent players who have to work differently than last year. If we can maximize our talent, we can be successful and beat teams in the conference and region,” he said. “We are more talented than people know.”