Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Sports

March 1, 2014

Lady Jets win NJCAA Region XVII Tournament, qualify for National Tournament

Lady Jets cut the nets

AMERICUS — South Georgia Technical College second year head basketball coach James Frey and his Lady Jets pulled off a one-point victory over former South Georgia Tech Lady Jets head coach Brandon Harrell and the Georgia Highlands Lady Chargers in the National Junior College Athletic Association Region XVII Tournament in Americus Saturday to capture the tournament championship and earn a berth in the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball National Tournament in Salina, Kansas, March 17–22.

Georgia Highlands was trailing by one point and had possession of the ball with 12 seconds remaining in the game. They brought the ball down the court, but strong defensive play by the Lady Jets kept them from getting off a shot before the final buzzer sounded and allowed the Lady Jets to escape with the 59–58 victory and move to 29–4 on the season.

The win allowed the 2013–14 Lady Jets to tie the women’s all-time record of 29 victories in a single season. Frey was awarded the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association (GCAA) Coach of the Year plaque by GCAA Commissioner David Elder and sophomore Shameekia “Polly” Murray was presented with her GCAA Player of the Year award at the end of the tournament. Murray was also named MVP of the NJCAA Region XVII Tournament and sophomore Nikkei Blackburn earned an All-Tournament selection as well.

Frey and the Lady Jets knocked off the defending Region XVII Tournament Champion, the Darton College Lady Cavaliers, 72–54 in the semi-final game of the tournament to advance to the finals against the second-ranked Georgia Highlands team. Harrell and the Lady Chargers had ended the Lady Jets 20-game winning streak one week earlier in an over-time decision.

The Lady Jets were up 29–28 at the end of the first half and both teams scored exactly 30 points in the second half for the Lady Jets to capture the narrow 59–58 victory and Coach Frey’s first GCAA Regular Season and Conference Tournament Championship as a head basketball coach.

“The biggest thing is that we set three goals at the beginning of the year,” Frey said. “The first one was to win the regular season championship, the second one was to win the region tournament, and the third one was to win the national championship. I feel extremely fortunate. To be 29-4 in front of our crowd is amazing. We have preached defense all year, so to get a stop where they didn’t even get a shot off is incredible. I’ve won them as an assistant but never as a head coach and it is indescribable.”   

Georgia Highlands actually beat South Georgia Tech in almost every scoring statistic except the one that counted on the scoreboard. The Lady Chargers hit 46 percent of their field goals, 60 percent of their three-point shots and 60 percent of their free throws compared to the Lady Jets 33.3 percent shooting percentage from the floor and 16.7 percent from the three-point line. The Lady Jets also only shot 55.6 percent from the foul line.

GCAA Player of the Year Shameekia “Polly” Murray was the leading scorer for the Lady Jets with 17 points and Shaquita Snow and Nikkei Blackburn tossed in 12 points each. Alexia Somerset added eight points, TaQuandra Mike had six and Delisia Sharpe tossed in four points. Each point was critical in the Lady Jets narrow one-point victory. Nikkei Blackburn also had 14 rebounds.

“It feels wonderful,” said GCAA Player of the Year Shameekia Murray. “Seeing all of my teammates work so hard since August and then seeing it all pay off, that’s what counts.”

When asked about her selection as the conference Player of the Year, Murray said that it was a great honor, but she was more happy for her team.

“It’s a great feeling, but at the end of the day it’s still a team thing. I got better from my freshman year and it was a great honor, but this championship as a team feels way better,” she said. “We’ve got to keep our focus the same and keep pushing because it’s not over yet.”  

This is the second time in the history of the Lady Jets’ 10-year program that the women’s team has advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament. The first time the team qualified for the tournament was in 2009–10. That is also the group that had the record for the most wins in a single season with a 29–7 record.

Coach Frey has compiled a 49–16 overall record in his two seasons at the helm of the Lady Jets. As a first year head coach, he wound up 20–12 despite the fact that he was hired for his first head coaching job late in the summer and found himself at a new school, in a new position, and having to rebuild a team almost from scratch. The Lady Jets had finished the 2011–12 season as the GCAA regular season champions and had no starters returning and only one regular season utility player and red-shirted player remaining.

He returned this season to put together a 29–4 record, win the GCAA regular season title as well as the NJCAA Region XVII Tournament Title, and claim a trip to the National Tournament. The Lady Jets will now travel to Region 10 to play Denmark Tech in Denmark, South Carolina on Saturday, March 8 at 1 p.m. for a chance to win the NJCAA District J Title and earn a better seed in the NJCAA National Tournament.

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