As long as the 2017-18 Cyclone basketball team can stay healthy, they have the potential to repeat some of last year’s successes.
After a storied and exciting 2016-17 basketball season that included an NJCAA Region IV championship and trip to nationals along with a bevy of individual accolades and broken records, the 2017-18 Cyclones are back with a different player dynamic that could give last year’s team a run for their money.
Although the dynamic duo of Michelle Borgen and Erin Drynan are continuing their education and basketball careers at Missouri University of Science and Technology and Georgia College and State University, respectively, the Cyclones have a number of players who will make an impact. Diamond Dortch (Romeoville), a 2016-17 All-Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference first team honoree, is the lone returning starter. She broke the Cyclone assist record last season (167), which ranked her No. 6 in the NJCAA Division II. Her skill at attacking the basket and finishing with the ball, along with her speed, will make her a key asset.
Kristen McGee (Merrillville), Creighton Fed (Dundee Crown) and Ashley Hunter (Homewood-Flossmoor) are new to the team, but bring the same skillset as Dortch. This group should be pivotal to wins.
“Our concern is always size, but the athleticism of those four will help in different ways. These four can take us places. Their quickness to the ball, anticipation and aggressiveness is stellar. Last year we depended on Erin [Drynan] to rebound, so we didn’t emphasize defense and boxing out. This year we’ll outshoot and be faster than most teams we play,” said head Coach Delwyn Jones, in his 18th season with the Cyclones.
In what he’s termed one of the best shooting teams he’s coached, Jones has a few other players expected to make a difference. Gabrielle Brent (Oak Forest) is back this year and has improved her shooting game. A little height is coming from the Cyclone volleyball team in Elizabeth Coffey (Peotone), at 5-foot-11, who can hit 15-foot jumpers and has rebounding strength. Jade Warner (Romeoville) also returns to the Cyclones with improved shooting skills and the ability to attack the basket. Marissa Salomon (Andrew) is an undersized post who gave the Cyclones physical play on the court last season and is one of the team’s best rebounders. Sophomore Montgomery Armstrong (Joliet) is another scorer who can hit the outside shot. Lauren O’Leary (Sandburg) is a new, quick point guard who can shoot and finish as well.
The skill gap between the other Skyway teams has closed, making for a more competitive race to first place. But in preseason play, the prospect of a Cyclone championship is not unattainable, and the team is already ranked No. 14 in NJCAA Division II.
“Last year we had one main shooter, this year we have four sources. We’re not the tallest, but a tall person can’t block three-pointers. The type of team we have this year would’ve given last year’s team trouble. This team has good character,” Jones said. “Our key to success is speed, defense, pressure, and hopefully consistent shooting from the perimeter. If we stay healthy, I feel we can win conference and region.”
The Cyclones home opener is Thursday, Nov. 2, 7 p.m., against St. Louis Community College.