October 21, 2003
Cowley basketball teams picked first in preseason polls
WICHITA — Getting respect from the coaches in the Jayhawk Conference, the Cowley men’s and women’s basketball teams were picked to finish first in the Jayhawk East preseason coaches’ polls conducted Monday at the Four Points-Sheraton in Wichita.
The Cowley men’s late-season run, which saw them finish just one win short of qualifying for the national tournament for the first time in nearly 50 years, along with the talent it has coming back, was enough for the coaches to vote the Tigers as the favorite in the East.
The Tigers were picked ahead of last year’s conference champion, Coffeyville. Colby, which is ranked seventh in the NJCAA preseason poll, was picked to finish first in the West.
“It’s a credit to our players and a credit to our program,” coach Randy Smithson said. “But, I don’t feel like number one until we beat Coffeyville. I hope our team can grow, I definitely think we have a team that can be first in the East.”
The Tigers return five sophomores from last year’s team to go along with a strong freshman class. Sophomores Francis Cuyler, a 6-foot guard, and Alex Elam, a 6-4 small forward, who were both named to the All-Region VI Team last season, are back, while the Tigers’ coaching staff added four freshmen from the state of Florida, six from Kansas, one from Texas and one from Louisiana.
“We want to be there in March,” Smithson said. “We need to get three to five freshmen to buy into the program like the sophomores did a year ago. If we can get that, this could be one of the best junior college teams I have ever coached.”
Along with defending champion Coffeyville, Smithson believes Fort Scott and Allen County, picked third and fourth, respectively, could challenge for the East title.
“There is no easy game in the Jayhawk, the whole league is balanced,” Smithson said. “It should be one heck of a race.”
The Lady Tigers, who have won five of the last six Jayhawk East titles, were picked to finish ahead of Independence, while Coffeyville was picked third in the East. Sixth-ranked Seward County was picked first in the Jayhawk West, ahead of 17th-ranked Garden City and 28th-ranked Cloud County.
For new Cowley head women’s coach Stephanie Smith, being picked first in the East speaks volumes about the respect other coaches in the conference have for the Lady Tiger program.
“It’s nice for recruiting purposes, and it’s an honor to be picked number one in the conference,” Smith said. “I’m a little surprised to be picked first with me being a new coach (at Cowley) and not having any returning players. Cowley has had a very successful program, and like a lot of coaches in the conference said, Cowley is number one until somebody can knock them off.”
Smith and her assistant, Erroll Lowery, had tremendous success working together at Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill. They have assembled a team full of newcomers. The only holdover from last year’s team is sophomore LaShelle Parker, who recently suffered a knee injury and is likely out for the season.
“We expected her to be a major part of our team this year,” Smith said. “She will still be able to help us from the bench by encouraging and helping her teammates.”
This year’s team features some talented in-state players to go along with three players from Brazil and one from Yugoslavia. Arkansas natives Brandi Lewis, the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year last season at Montana State, and Ashley Stinson, a 5-9 sophomore transfer from Wabash Valley, who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds as a freshman, also will figure into the mix.
Smith believes the key will be how quickly the new players can come together and form solid team chemistry.
“We have to adjust quickly in order to live up to being picked number one in the conference,” Smith said. “We’ll use it as motivation. My teams at Wabash were proud to be picked that high, now we just need to stay there.”
The Cowley basketball teams will open their seasons Nov. 1 when they host Butler County Community College. The women will play at 6 p.m. and the men will play at 8. The Butler women were picked to finish eighth, while the men were picked in a tie for seventh.
Predicted Order of Finish
Men’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. COWLEY COUNTY
3. Fort Scott
4. Allen County
5. Johnson County
7. Neosho County
8. Kansas City
3. Barton County
3. Seward County
5. Dodge City
6. Garden City
7. Butler County
7. Cloud County
Women’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. COWLEY COUNTY
4. Johnson County
6. Fort Scott
7. Kansas City
8. Allen County
9. Neosho County
1. Seward County
2. Garden City
3. Cloud County
6. Dodge City
7. Barton County
8. Butler County