The Odessa College Lady Wranglers return to the national stage this week at the NJCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championships at Lubbock's Rip Griffin Center.
Odessa College (23-7) earned the tournament's No. 5 seed after winning the NJCAA Region V title. The Lady Wranglers enter the competition at 3 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of Monday's late game between Tyler Junior College and Salt Lake Community College.
Odessa College head coach Ara Baten said the Lady Wranglers' ability to mesh both their personalities and athletic skills were a key to reaching the national tournament for the third season in a row.
"I think there's a little bit of all of that, honestly," Baten said. "These kids, probably as much as any team I've ever coached, genuinely pull for each other. It's a very unselfish basketball team, which is really uncommon in junior college.
"It's made our (coaches') job trying to help them along the way a lot easier because they really, genuinely want each other to have success."
The Lady Wranglers are been led by sophomore guard Kamryn Lemon, who averages 15.8 points to go with 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals. Sophomore forward Julan McDonald adds 9.0 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds.
McDonald joins fellow sophomores Amanda Soderqvist and Wytalla Motta in returning from last year's team, which reached the second round of the national tourney. Lemon transferred in after playing at Hill (Kan.) Community College, which finished third in last year's tournament.
"For the people that have been there, I think it gave them a little bit more experience of what to expect," McDonald said. "Our intensity has to be higher. Our focus has to be better all game, all 40 minutes, if we want to win."
Soderqvist, who averages 7.2 points per game, said the Lady Wranglers will have to step up their game to compete.
"Everything's faster and tougher at all levels, out on the court and mentally," she said. "We've got to be prepared for that."
Meanwhile, Baten said having won a game at last year's tourney is no guarantee of success this time around.
"I think every team's different," he said. "I think our sophomores are excited to get back and our freshmen are excited to go see it."
The Lady Wranglers haven't played since beating New Mexico Junior College 69-65 on March 9 in the Region V championship game. Baten said the time off, which included Odessa College's spring break, was a mixed blessing.
"It's good and it's bad," he said. "I think we needed a few days to recover after the Region V tournament. But when these kids aren't in their normal routine, it tends to make things a little difficult just because we're all creatures of habit."
In a similar vein, Baten said earning a bye to the second round was just one more factor with which Odessa College must contend.
"For us, it's been nice to take three or four days here and just get back to trying to get sound defensively, trying to get solid on the offensive end, without being so concerned about who we're playing," Baten said. "We'll see if it helps, but I do think it's been time well used for us.
"We'll see who we've got. We're going to play a great team. It doesn't matter who wins that game."
Making it easier to deal with the situation, Baten said, is the Lady Wrangler's ability to quickly adapt to different styles various opponents may bring to the court.
"They've done that all year," Baten said. "We have good players and we have smart players. When you're talented and you're smart, you've got a chance."
ARTICLE BY- SAM WALLER: ODESSA AMERICAN