SYRACUSE - The Fulton-Montgomery Community College Lady Raiders, fresh off a 19-4 regular season and a Mountain Valley Conference championship, are set to kick off their Division III Region III title run today.
The second-seeded Lady Raiders will take on seventh-seeded Finger Lakes Community College at 3 p.m. in a quarterfinal matchup at Onondaga Community College.
The Lady Raiders started the season 3-2 before winning 16 of their next 17 contests. The fifth victory in that stretch of basketball was an 85-63 thrashing of FLCC in Canadaigua.
To prepare his girls for the postseason, FMCC head coach Kevin Jones took them down to Westchester County to tangle with Division II Monroe College last Sunday. The Lady Raiders led in the final minutes before ultimately falling 86-83.
"I just wanted to push the kids to another level before we went to the regional tournament," Jones said. "What I wanted to show them is that we need to play at that level for three games. I was glad that it was worth doing because we played really well."
In advance of their first-round game, the Lady Raiders have garnered honors both on a local and national level.
Monae Abrams and Kassandra Flowers were named first-team all-conference, while Abrams was also named Conference Player of the Year. Abrams, an experienced sophomore, has controlled the paint all season for the Lady Raiders and posted regular-season averages of 16.4 points and 12.6 rebounds. Flowers finished the regular season averaging 13.5 points despite missing time recovering from a fight with cancer.
"Mo has been pretty dominant in the post area against just about every team," Jones said. "Flowers fighting back from what she's gone through to even make a conference team is special."
Stephanie Rice averaged 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds and was named second-team all-conference.
In addition, Jones was named Conference Coach of the Year. It is Jones' first time taking home the honor in his 16 years at the helm of the Lady Raiders. While Jones says he appreciates the acknowledgement, he'd rather have a region championship than any personal award.
"All of the things that I've received over my career are about my kids," Jones said. "We're fortunate that we've recruited some pretty strong kids to our program, and it's helped us build and continue a tradition here."
Lastly, Wednesday's NJCAA Division III coaches' poll ranked FMCC as the ninth-best team in the nation. The poll ranks the top teams among the 91 junior-college squads that play D-III women's basketball.
While FMCC didn't have any trouble with Finger Lakes when they played them in December, Jones has preached to his girls that anything can happen at any time. The Lady Raiders have a core group of sophomores that they lean on game in and game out, but the freshmen will be big for FMCC during its tournament run. Erica Redwood will be relied upon to clean up the boards off the bench while Jessica Woney's defense will be critical if the Lady Raiders hope to make a deep run.
"They've [the freshman] had to kind of come in and take a back seat because we have such a great sophomore crew," Jones said. "At this level, when you go to that tournament for three days, if you have a number of kids that you can play and keep kids rested, that's huge."