Nearly 30 years ago, the Cyclone women’s basketball team first won the NJCAA Region IV championship and appeared at nationals. The 2016-17 squad is following in their footsteps after defeating Illinois Valley Community College (21-10) 92-72 in the Region IV District L championship game last night.
In a true team effort, All-Region Tournament MVP Erin Drynan led the way to this long-awaited and well deserved region championship. She dominated under the basket on both ends, keeping the Cyclones ahead the entire game. Finishing with a triple-double (34 points, 27 rebounds, 11 blocks) and earning All-Tournament honors, Drynan gave credit to her teammates, who also made significant contributions. Top Cyclone scorer Michelle Borgen had a slow start, but was in command on the free throw line (8-for-10) proving why she tops the NJCAA Division II ranks. Diamond Dortch was key at point guard (seven points, seven assists, nine rebounds), maintaining fast breakaways and consistently feeding the ball to her teammates under the basket. Drynan, Borgen and Dortch were all named to the All-Region Tournament team.
Even when the Eagles fought back and found their rhythm on offense, the Cyclones combated it with speed, aggression to keep possession of the ball and key scoring moments. Borgen racked up free throws and Taylor McGiles pushed her team ahead further in the second quarter with three 3-pointers. Not until the buzzer sounded to officially end the game did the Cyclones relax and celebrate this achievement.
“I’m overwhelmed. It’s been our goal all season to go to nationals, and it finally became a reality. It was a team effort. I gave it my all because it could’ve been my last time on the court in a Moraine Valley uniform, you never know. But I didn’t want that; none of us wanted that,” Drynan said. “Now we want a national championship. We’re dreaming big!”
Borgen finished with 22 points and eight rebounds. Ashley Carroll added 12 points to the cause and McGiles rounded out her scoring effort with 11 despite a defensive push from some key Illinois Valley players.
“Diamond really helped pushed the ball down the court this game. When we have a point guard who pushes the ball to our strong posts, it makes it easier to get ahead. I have respect for Illinois Valley working to stop us. But, we win the paint game if we hit the perimeter,” said head Coach Delwyn Jones, who was named Region IV Coach of the Year. “When the game gets tight, Erin and Michelle take it up another notch, they play better. And Diamond has that as well.”
It’s been a long road for the Cyclones this season, fraught with some minor player eligibility infractions mid-season that cost the team 15 games and the conference championship. Despite this setback, the Cyclones persevered.
“It’s surreal right now because we went through a lot this year. We do things the right way and minor infractions cost us 15 games, which took a lot from these young ladies who worked so hard. It was nothing they had control over. They showed resilience, especially in our playoff game with Oakton, where we were down and came back. It didn’t stop them. I have a great group, not just in talent, but in character,” Jones said.
The 1987-88 and 1988-89 women’s basketball teams were the last ones to earn a region championship and compete at nationals both years. These Cyclones aspire to go all the way when they head down to Harrison, Arkansas, for the tournament, March 21-25. Seeded No. 10, Moraine Valley will start their run against No. 7 Kalamazoo Valley Community College (28-3).
“I’m very, very, very proud of this team, and I have a lot of respect for them. We got redemption when the world was against us,” Jones said. “We feel we can win the national championship. We talked about not just winning the region championship, but nationals. We’re not satisfied. The top seeded teams (Kirkwood Community College and Owens Community College) will present challenges, but we have players who can play with them. We’re not favorites, but we can beat them. We’ll surprise them.”