The State Fair Community College men’s and women’s basketball teams have been climbing the ladder of success and only have a couple of rungs left to reach the top.
The Roadrunners and Lady Roadrunners completed their regular seasons Saturday night with a sweep of Mineral Area .
Both had already clinched the top seed for the Region 16 tournaments for the first time, and the Roadrunners went 8-0 in league play to become the first team to do so since Missouri State-West Plains went unbeaten in the 2010-11 season.
“It feels great to do something no one else ever did at this school,” Roadrunner Joe Thomasson said Saturday night. “So me and my team and my coaches, we’ve been through a lot this year. It’s a special moment. I’m going to share this with my brothers and my coaching staff. We’re going to cherish it. “
This year’s success has been a work in progress for years.
“I tell my coaching staff every year (that) we need to make a baby step toward the top of that ladder,” SFCC Athletics Director Darrin Pannier said. “Each time we do that, the support is there from the community and our administration. … The No. 1 team in the region, both men and women, with that success, it has helped us to continue climbing the ladder to what we want to do, and that’s year in and year out, being successful and having the opportunity to go to the national tournament.”
Winning the region tournament and a national championship remain goals for this season.
Both teams received first-round byes in the region tournaments.
The Roadrunners begin play in the semifinal round of the men’s tournament at 6 p.m. Friday when they will meet the winner of the Mineral Area-Three Rivers game at Jefferson College in Hillsboro.
“I’m happy for the players because they definitely had this as a goal as we got further along,” men’s coach Kevin Thomas said. “They wanted it. You could tell they really wanted it tonight. As we talked about it leading up to this game, you could tell that they really wanted to do something special.”
For the Lady Roadrunners, they will face the Mineral Area-Crowder winner in the semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday at Mineral Area College in Park Hills. Mineral Area and Crowder will scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Park Hills.
The women’s championship game is set for 3 p.m. Saturday, and the men’s final will be at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We work very hard to put on a very good brand of basketball,” women’s coach KevinBucher said.” We put in a lot of hours to work with our kids to get to this point and what a treat to have a regular season (where) both the men’s and women’s teams are No. 1 — and now the big prize. You have to finish things off. What a treat if both teams can go to nationals.”
On the climb
The Roadrunners began the climb up that ladder in 2007 when Dale Ribble was named head coach.They went 53-26 during Ribble’s three seasons, including 10-13 in the region. They won one regional tournament game and received first-round byes in the other two year.
Ribble was replaced by his assistant coach, Kevin Thomas, in 2010. Since then,the Roadrunners have gone 79-35, including 21-11 in the region. However, they compiled no better than a 5-3 regional record – until this year.They finished second in the region tournament in 2011 and won their opening round game in 2012.
The Roadrunners haven’t had a losing season since the 2006-07 season and have won 20 or more games four times. Only one time during that stretch did the Roadrunners have a better overall record than this season: They went 23-6 in the 2010-11 season and finished second to Missouri State-West Plains in the regional tournament.
From the 1999-2000 season through the 2006-07 season, the Roadrunners posted winning records only two times, went winless in regional play four times and never won more than three games in league play. Over that span, they only won one regional tournament game.
The Lady Roadrunners haven’t had to go so far to get to the top. They’ve been competitive for several years now. Since Kevin Bucher took over in 2010, the Lady Roadrunners have won 86 games and lost only 36. They won the regional tournament in 2011 and went 1-2 in the national tournament, and they reached the regional championship game three times.
Both the men’s and women’s teams faced adversity this season.
The Roadrunners went 4-6 over their first 10 games before turning it around and carrying a 12-game winning streak into the tournament.
“I think some of it was about chemistry. Guys were trying to figure each other out,” Thomas said. “One of our kids (Issac Freeman) wound up quitting on us. It might have been the best thing that could happen to us. It was addition by subtraction. We were better, even though he brought some things to the table. They stepped up and made us better. … We knew it was a work in progress, trying to get everybody back on the same page.”
Early in the season, the Lady Roadrunners were shorthanded at guard because of injuries and were forced to forfeit two games after using an ineligible player in each.
“You start with seven kids and you play a bunch of games in a row,” Bucher said of his team’s 4-6 start. “It’s been a treat to get them where we’ve finally got everybody, just the consistency of playing together. I know they’ll fight all together, just getting better and better for 40 minutes.”
Since that slow start, the Lady Roadrunners have only lost twice, going 14-2.
What’s in the future?
Both the men’s and women’s teams are sophomore heavy, so next year’s teams will have a lot of new faces.
Bucher believes that the team’s recent success should pay off in recruiting.
“The main thing is having that consistency of being in the top 20 and being No. 1 or No. 2 in the region, year in and year out,” Bucher said Saturday night. “We have a bunch of kids here tonight looking at State Fair. When they see how our kids play and the style and things, I really think that helps (us to get) those real good kids.”
One key to the athletic program’s rise is the support it receives from the college’s administration and fan base.
“It shows that we have a great support staff on campus,” Pannier said. “We have great leadership from our administration – from our president to the vice presidents. It shows that those entities are helping you and guiding you to victory, as well as our community is supportive of the programs. The more you win, of course, more and more people show up.”
Thomas echoes the same sentiment.
“There’s a lot of people behind the scenes that get a lot of credit from Darrin Pannier, our athletic director, who allows us (the coaches) to go out and do our jobs. The administration, our old president Marsha Drennon and new president Joanna Anderson has picked up where she left off.”
Thomas said the biggest thing about his team’s turnaround is the fans.
“I think it’s big. It’s a long time coming,” Thomas said of having both teams entering tournament play as top seeds. “There’s a lot of people that have been faithful fans of our program for a long time. I’m excited for them. It’s an exciting time for the men and women both. … Both of them had a great year.”
Back on the court
The teams’ coaches and players are happy for what they’ve accomplished, but they aren’t satisfied just yet.
“It’s a big accomplishment to get No. 1 in the region, but it’s not over,” Lady Roadrunner sophomore Apiphany Woods said. “Any team in our region can go to nationals. We’ve got to take care of business from here on out because it’s one and done.”
Balance has been a key for the Roadrunners this season with four players averaging double-figure scoring.
Kevin Punter, who emerged as a Region 16 Player of the Year candidate in his sophomore season, averages a team-high 21 points per game, second only in the region to Moberly Area’s Jaysean Paige. Paige averages 21.9.
Punter also leads the Roadrunners with 41 steals (1.6 per game).
Joe Thomasson has been the team’s playmaker this season, averaging 17.2 points and a team-high 6.2 assists. He’s another Roadrunner who could take player-of-the-year honors.
Kedar Edwards is averaging 16.3 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds. Dondre Alexander has been the Roadrunners’ top 3-point shooter, making a club-best 75 while shooting 46 percent. Alexander is averaging 11.9 points.
Sophomore guard Antoinette Taylor has been the player that makes the Lady Roadrunners go, averaging team highs of 16 points, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals.
Woods’ average of 12 points and Alecia Cooley’s 10.9 help lead a team that averages 77.7 points a game. Cooley leads the team with 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, and Woods averages 6.6 rebounds.