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Banged up Kirkwood ready to defend NJCAA women’s basketball title
Eagles are seeded third in 16-team tournament but will be missing a point guard for week, another guard for first game
Kim Muhl has had a choppy year.
The veteran Kirkwood Community College women’s basketball coach said several friends died in the past year, including his team’s bus driver and a former player.
“It’s been a tough year for me personally,” he said. “There have been a lot of distractions.”
His team, however, has been a bright spot once again, winning 29 of 31 games, another regional title and helping Muhl achieve his 1,000th career victory.
“It’s been a fun year, a very rewarding year,” he said.
But as the Eagles head into the NJCAA Division II national tournament as the defending champion, they will be without two key players. Point guard Naya Haymon was injured before the regional tournament and is out. Three-year guard Karsyn Stratton, a former Clear Creek Amana prep, sprained her ankle last week and will miss at least Tuesday’s opener against No. 14 seed Catawba Valley.
So what kind of shape are the Eagles in?
“As well as can be expected,” Muhl said Monday from Port Huron, Mich., site of this year’s five-day tournament. “Everybody’s a little beat up.”
Stratton, second on the team at 24.6 minutes per game, will be missed. She averages just 5.1 points but “is just a good player,” Muhl said.
“Some kids are going to have to step up.”
Guard Tasia Jordan averages a team-best 15 points per game and forward Jada Devine adds 10.2 points. Fortunately, this is a team that doesn’t rely on one big scorer, but lots of contributors. Six other players average at least 5.1 points per game.
The 16-team field is highlighted by No. 1 Morton (Ill.), unbeaten in 31 games, and No. 2 CCBC Essex (32-1), which handed the Eagles one of their two losses, 59-54 in December.
“The top six are solid,” Muhl said. “The rest are kind of squirrelly.”
Johnson County (32-1), Harcum (28-2) and Bryant & Stratton College (27-5) are in the “solid” mix. Catawba Valley (16-12) is among the “squirrelly.“ The Red Hawks, from Hickory, N.C., have won six of their last seven games.
Keziah Soogrim leads the team at 18.6 points per game.
“They are big and athletic,” Muhl said.
Kirkwood, though, will be ready.
“I think we’re playing OK,” Muhl said. “I think they’ll respond well.
“(But) it will be interesting.”
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