Six return from 20-win conference championship team
A core group of eight sophomores will lead the McCook Community College women’s basketball team into 2021 and look to improve on a 22-10 record when the season begins Friday and Saturday with a pair of games in Wyoming.
In his first year leading the Lady Indians, Coach Brandon Pritchett was named the 2020 Nebraska Community College Athletic Conference’s Coach of the Year as MCC claimed the conference championship, went 21-9 during the regular season, hosted and won a first-round tournament game over Lamar 66-38, before losing to 15th ranked Casper College in the second round.
Pritchett’s second season will be an abbreviated one, starting with road games at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo. Friday, at Eastern Wyoming (Torrington) Saturday, then six games at the Peter and Dolores Graff Events Center between Jan. 29 and Feb. 16.
“I love how we finished the fall semester. Defensively we really attacked and really applied pressure, forced turnovers and shot the ball well,” Pritchett said. “If we can shoot the ball well and space the ball well and guard half-court, I think we can be a successful team. We want to put pressure on teams and make them feel uncomfortable and we were able to accomplish those things at the end of our fall semester.”
The team returns six sophomores, four of which were starters and key contributors off the bench, and they also add a pair of sophomore transfer to the mix.
“We’ve got eight sophomores so that’s a pretty good experience-level returning from a team that had the season we did last year, and they are solid group leadership-wise as well,” Pritchett said.
Point guard Amiya Dartest (5-3, Jennings, La.) scored 320 points for the Lady Indians in 32 games. She shot 39.3 percent from the floor, and 34.9 percent from the 3-point line while making 78.8 percent of her free throws. She averaged 10.2 points per game and led the team with 60 3-pointers on the year.
“The point-guard position for us is key and it’s nice for us to have somebody returning who understands what we’re trying to do and she can shoot the ball when we need her to,” Pritchett said.
Gail Whiting (5-9 Montgomery, Ala.) became a primary contributor off the bench as a freshman. She averaged 11.0 points per game and 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists. She was a 52.2 percent shooter from the field and grabbed 169 rebounds on the season including 94 on the offensive end. In addition she had 66 steals.
“When she was on the court, she was efficient and really rebounded the ball and led our team in offensive rebounds,” Pritchett said.
Jessika Espinoza (6-0 guard, El Paso, Texas) returns for a second year at MCC after spending a year at Western New Mexico where she was injured.
“Coming off her first full season after being injured, she brings us a lot of experience at the guard spot,” Pritchett said. Espinoza played in all 32 games for the Lady Indians, averaging 4.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. She scored 129 points and grabbed 101 rebounds including 76 defensive tallies.
As a freshman Carla Torrubia Cano (Melilla, Spain) was named to the All- Region IX South Team, the First-Team All-Nebraska Community College Athletic Conference and second-team honors for the Omaha World-Herald's All-Midlands college team.
“She brings a lot of experience and was our second-leading scorer last year,” Pritchett said.
The 5-11 forward played in all 32 MCC games, starting 26 and averaging 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. From the 3-point line she made 39 of 91 attempts, (42.9 percent) which was 11th best in the nation. From the field she was 53.7 percent and had 37 steals, 44 assists and 13 blocked shots.
“Having those four with a lot of experience returning and then you add Kelly Snelling and Destiny Davis, I like our depth,” Pritchett said.
Snelling, a 5-5 guard from Gering High School, played in 22 games as a freshman, scoring 51 points and providing a glimpse of her talents in a 15-point performance last January against the Doane JV team.
“Kelly has vastly improved over last year. She is probably the one who has improved the most since last year. She put in a lot of work and is really hungry to get better,” Pritchett said. “I was really impressed with her work in the off-season and the summer to where she’s at right now.”
The coach was expecting a lot out of sophomore Destiny Davis (5-6 guard, Oklahoma City) a season ago, but an injury prevented her from getting on the floor.
As a freshman in 2018-2019, she appeared in 28 games, averaging 4.2 points.
“She’s back full-strength now I’m super-excited about having her available, She’s a tough defender and competitor and has really improved her outside shooting and her ability to put the ball on the floor so I’m looking forward getting her back on the court,” Pritchett said.
Estrella Avalos, a 6-1 guard-forward, from Las Cruces, N.M., joins the squad after spending last season at Colby Community College. She appeared in 29 games, started 10 and averaged 6.5 points per game and 3.6 rebounds for the Trojans.
“She brings really good experience at the forward position for us, coming from Colby where she played a lot of minutes and produced well there. She had a great fall, is constantly improving and I see her being a consistent force for us on both ends of the ball,” Pritchett said.
Maite Lara Garcia, (6-1, Saint Joan Despi, Spain) joins the team after spending a redshirt year at Concordia University-Portland. “She brings size and length at the four position, can play the forward and guard position and gives us some more experience coming from a four-year school,” Pritchett said.
Two freshmen joined the team this fall and two more joined for the spring semester.
Alyssa Van Vleet is a 5-10 freshman from Decatur Community High School in Oberlin. “She’s come a long way since she set foot on campus, she was really young on the basketball side of things and has really grown over these past three months,” Pritchett said. “She’s someone who can come in and make shots, for us as a bigger guard and started shooting the ball really well late in the preseason.”
Carmen Leboreiro Iriarte (5-6 guard, Lugo, Spain) was a bright spot for Lady Indians as a physical guard. “She has also made some adjustments for us playing a little point-guard and has done really well with that adjustment.” Pritchett said. “She’s a competitor who plays well on both ends of the floor, and adjusted from the tempo game they play in Spain to a more-structured, patient game here.”
Linda Ijeh (5-7 redshirt freshman point guard, Asaba Nigeria) joined the team earlier this month. “It will be a difficult transition for her at the point-guard transition especially learning everybody’s role on the floor and so she’ll have to make some quick adjustments but I think she’s someone who can give us depth at that position as a lefty who can shoot it and run a team and push the ball in transition for us.”
Valentina Monzo, a 6-2 forward from Chili just arrived this week. She just graduated from high school and played for the Chilean National Team that finished third in the 2019 FIBA U16 Women’s Americas Championship.
“I’m excited to add some depth at the forward position and especially one who comes in with international experience and can fit well in our system, she can play inside-out and has a good feel for the game and good basketball IQ and I expect she can come in and help us immediately,” Pritchett said.
The coach expects the region and the conference is going to be tough again this year.
“Western Nebraska is loaded like they are every year, Otero brings back a lot of experience and one of the better players in the region if not the country, Northeastern brings back a good group, Trinidad State will reload and Lamar’s got a new coach, so it will be a challenge again for us every night. And our Nebraska conference will be the same way.”
Pritchett said on any given night, he thinks anybody can win. “But when you factor in all the other circumstances with health concerns, game postponements, how to make adjustments due to player availability it’s going to be a challenge on a multitude of levels.”
With the tough teams in the region and in the conference, MCC will play tough games outside the sub-region with early games against LCCC and Eastern Wyoming plus the game at Iowa Western (a team consistently ranted in the top 20 in the nation) and a really good nationally-ranked D2 team in Highland.
“We will be battle-tested, this schedule seems like it’s always going to be a tough game, and most weeks we’ll play three games a week, some of those back-to-back and overnights,” Pritchett said.
“I’m just ready to get going. We’re glad we can finally have some games here in McCook and on campus and can give our athletes and fans something to be excited about this spring. I’m thankful to Mid-Plains and McCook that we were able to have a fall season and we were able to practice with a full squad all year long, there were a lot of institutions struggling who weren’t able to practice five-on-five every day. I think we did a good job maintaining health and safety standards and being cautions but allowing our student-athletes to do what they came here to do” play sports, go to class, and be successful.
For a complete schedule, rosters, news, statistics, photos and more on all MCC sports, please visit the official home of MCC Athletics at https://mccindians.com/index.aspx?tab=basketball2&path=wbball