Hopes are high for Region 16 championship level success for the basketball programs at North Central Missouri College, with the amount of local talent, for both the women’s and men’s programs, as high as it has ever been in the nearly 20 years of the resurrection of the Pirates programs.
Official practices can begin for Jenni Croy’s Lady Pirates and Jeremy Esry’s Pirates once the calendar flips to October in 3 1/2 weeks. The season openers at the Ketcham Community Center will be played on Wednesday, November 1st, as the Lady Pirates host Kansas City Kansas Community College (5:30 PM) and the Pirates the Quincy (IL) University junior varsity (7:30 PM).
Whether by purpose or by chance, both NCMC teams have loaded up on talent between I-70 and the Iowa line, with Jenni Croy adding three players who played in the 2017 Show-Me Showdown in Columbia, as freshman forward Whitley Richman, and freshman guards Nicole Kost and Lindsay Wyatt are now Lady Pirates. Richman, the daughter of long-time Pirate men’s basketball coach, current softball coach and Athletic Director Steve Richman, is a 2017 graduate of Trenton High School that helped lead the Lady Bulldogs to a program first in March, reaching the “Final Four” in Class 3, and finishing fourth in the state. Wyatt and Kost helped lead the Mercer Lady Cardinals to their own program first, winning the Class 1 state championship on the floor of Mizzou Arena in Columbia, part of a potent “Big 3” scoring trio that included Bailey Owens, now a freshman with the Division 2 Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.
However, the Lady Pirates “local” haul was not just relegated to the Highway 65 corridor, as Coach Croy and assistant Lesli Collins added a rugged front-court presence in Brookfield High School’s Ashtin Williams, and mined the St. Joseph area to find three-point shooting and a four-year winning mentality from Lafayette High School’s Maddie Book.
Late additions to the Lady Pirate roster include Samm Jett, a name familiar to Mercer fans as a silky smooth guard from Community High School in northeast Missouri, who was a commit to John Wood Community College in Quincy, Illinois, before changing her mind and becoming a Lady Pirate late in the recruiting process. Jett was a starter for the Community team that rallied to beat then-unbeaten Mercer in the Class 1 state sectionals in March 2016 at Kirksville High School. Joeigh Eaton of Mound City High School, younger sister of Lady Pirate sophomore Kendey Eaton, will be a freshman at NCMC in 2017-2018, along with high-scoring Gilman City High School guard Hailey Burrows, expected to add three-point shooting, athleticism, and driving ability to the Ketcham Center floor. Another lightning quick guard who quickly became a “floor factor” for the Southwest Livingston Lady Wildcats in her senior season as a foreign exchange student, Ona Furst, will be a freshman for NCMC.
While not large in numbers, three returning sophomores will give the Lady Pirates as good as a group of returning players as any of the four teams in Region 16, as All-Region talents Sarah Lamp (Kirksville) and Kendey Eaton (Mound City) are joined by forward Madison Gonseth (Murray, Iowa).
If the mountains of talent in the freshman group mesh quickly with the all-around floor game provided by the sophomores, it could very well be a season to remember for the North Central Missouri College women, looking to knock down the Region 16 postseason roadblock established by St. Louis over the past two seasons.
The Lady Pirates will have 13 games in the months of November and December. The Region 16 regular season opener will see St. Louis visit the Pirate campus on Saturday, January 13th. NCMC will have three “jamboree” scrimmages in October, traveling to Iowa Falls, Iowa (10/8), Springfield, Missouri (10/14) and Kansas City, Kansas (10/25).
For the Pirate men, a focus in recruiting went to adding firepower to the floor, as NCMC’s first season with Coach Jeremy Esry ended with a Region 16 semifinal loss in Jefferson City to eventual Region 16 champion St. Louis, that saw the Archers hold the Pirates offense down with a stingy defensive effort.
While not quite as locally focused on the recruiting trail as their female counterparts, Coach Esry found a handful of potential freshman standouts, including two from the KCI Conference, and perhaps the best pure scorer in the Grand River Conference.
Putnam County High School’s Calvin Heidenwith signed with the Pirates in the early spring, with Penney High School’s Jaran Richman and Lawson High School’s Cody Glenn soon to follow. Richman was a tough point forward for a strong team out of Hamilton, and doubled as starting quarterback of the Class 1 state champion Hornet football team. Jaran is a cousin of Whitley Richman, and nephew to Steve Richman, bringing a legacy to the North Central campus. Glenn, as a high-scoring point guard, led Lawson to the Class 3 state sectionals, and nearly brought the Cardinals from a second-half deficit in a fourth-quarter flurry against the Maryville Spoofhounds. Long-time Lawson High School girl’s basketball coach Lisa Glenn is Cody’s mother, and like Richman, Cody Glenn was a standout on the football field for the Cardinals, helping LHS to the Class 2 state semifinals last November.
The Pirates mined in and around the Kansas City metropolitan area, getting a pair of Grain Valley Eagles to sign, as Josh Quintrell and Jake Salisbury made the decision to become the newest players at the Trenton two-year school, along with point guard Emil Spriggs of Lee’s Summit.
Freshman recruits coming to the North Central program from out-of-state are Jason Feliz, a guard/forward combo from Long Island, New York, set to wear #2; guard Jordan Reece of Wichita Falls, Texas; and guard Lawrence Collins of Manvel, Texas.
The hope of the Pirates coaching staff is that the incoming freshmen, close in overall numbers to the six returning sophomores, provide roster stability and balance for the 2017-2018 season and beyond.
Those returning as sophomores for the Pirate men’s team are guard Chance Edwards from Kirksville, forward Mikhlyn (M.J.) Johnson from Benton High School in St. Joseph, guard Jordan Leonard from Winston, guard Ryan Ward from 2016 state champion Hartville High School, forward Jalen Gant of Kansas City, and center Harris Cameron from Gallatin.
The NCMC men will play in two jamborees in October, traveling to Cedar Falls, Iowa on Saturday, October 7th, and the Johnson County Jamboree in Overland Park, Kansas on Sunday, October 15th. The Pirates will play two games in the Highland, Kansas Classic on the weekend of November 10th and 11th, and host the defending national champions from Southwestern Community College (Creston, Iowa) on Wednesday, November 29th.
A change in Region 16 play for both Pirate teams will be two fewer regular season games against their region foes, as Wentworth Military Academy of Lexington folded at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year, leaving four women’s teams (NCMC, St. Louis, Cottey, Penn Valley) in Region 16 and just three men’s squads (NCMC, St. Louis, Penn Valley) fighting for the championship flag as the calendar moves toward March.