These are special times at Tabor College

By Steve Sell
December 14, 2015

It’s Tabor College’s world and the rest of the KCAC is just living in it.

We’re seven or six games into the conference basketball schedule (depending on which teams have had byes), but it’s clear the rest of the KCAC has some catching up to do.

I had a chance to see both Tabor teams on Saturday. While I think there’s a chance the Bluejay men could lose once, maybe twice, during the grueling 20-game conference schedule, the Tabor women quite honestly could run the table.

The Tabor men have opened up a two-game lead on Ottawa, Southwestern and Friends. The Bluejays already have defeated Ottawa and Friends in the first round and still have to play Southwestern, which occurs in early January at Hillsboro. The next two games could be dangerous, though, road games at Sterling and Saint Mary. If Tabor survives those, it will probably complete the first round with a 10-0 record.

Looming later is a three-game road trip to start the second half to Ottawa, Kansas Wesleyan and Friends. There's a chance the Bluejays might suffer a loss, maybe two, in that gauntlet.

The thing about Tabor, though, is its depth. John Jedneak and Jake Arck were starters last year against Mac, but have been supplanted by Jonathan Gibson and Tullio Parry, who go 6-8 and 6-6 respectively. Gibson comes by way of the island of Granada, while Perry is an LA transplant as he’s given up the warm temperatures of the big Cali city for the cold, wintery days of Hillsboro, Kansas.

There’s a lot of teams that would like to have Tabor backups Alan Urrutia, Kyle Baker and Davaghndre Jones. Urrutia comes from Georgia, Baker is a transfer from Arkansas State University and Jones is from Minnesota.

I asked Tabor assistant Anthony Monson how it is able to pull in players from all over the country, even the world if you count Gibson. He told me it’s all about hard work and leaving no stone unturned.

The Jays revolve around point guard Lance Carter, one of the best players in recent KCAC memory as he could easily be playing up a level. The fluid 6-4 guard from Ohio controls the game as he had 17 points, a whopping 14 rebounds and five assists on Saturday, even though he goes through stretches that the game seems so easy for him that he looks bored. Malik Brooks (from Texas) and DeMarco Smith (Topeka) are sharpshooting guards, while Parry is an inside-outside threat at 6-6. Add in the 6-8 Gibson and you have a specimen who is the final line of defense and can swat shots like flies.

As good as the Tabor men are, the women could be even more of a dominating team. It hasn’t taken long for former longtime Sterling assistant coach Shawn Reed to put his own personal stamp on the program. The Bluejays were just 1-6 in non-con action, but played a brutal schedule against higher-ups. The KCAC, at this point, is looking like a respite.

Against Mac on Saturday, Reed’s starters scored 16 — that’s right, 16 — points. The reserves scored 63. He told me who starts depends on who his team plays and how the matchups favor his team.

Off the bench, he brought the current Miss Kansas Basketball — Morgan Ediger — as well as expected All-KCAC first-team pick Tena Loewen and Kayla Wilgers, who has owned the Bulldogs from long range throughout her career.

One difference in the two Tabor programs is that Reed is able to recruit heavily in Kansas, getting a lot of small-school gems to come to Hillsboro. Ediger is from Cimarron, Loewen from Hillsboro and Wilgers from Berean Acadmey in nearby Elbing. Wilgers played with Mallory Zuercher, who started on Saturday. Another starter, Sam Short, comes from Hesston, while starter Jurnee Reid is from Wichita.

The talent level on the women’s side in the KCAC doesn’t have the depth of the men. Once you get past Kansas Wesleyan, Friends and Oklahoma Wesleyan, the rest of the teams have that .500 look or worse. Ottawa hasn’t lived up to expectations, while perennial powers Sterling and Southwestern have never recovered from losing longtime coaches Lonnie Kruse and Dave Denly, respectively.

Granted, there’s still a long way to go. But they’re doing something right athletically at Tabor as it’s dominating the Big 3 sports — football and the two basketballs. The Bluejay football team ran the KCAC table and won a first-round national playoff game. Both Tabor basketball teams could very well do the same and I believe both have the talent to win some games at the national tourney.

I’ve always found Tabor’s athletic success somewhat remarkable. I could see where Friends and Kansas Wesleyan could be solid year after year because of the allure of Wichita and Salina. Tabor is in one of the smallest towns in the KCAC and while Wichita is about an hour away, Hillsboro still has a very small-town feel to it.

The rest of the KCAC is certainly taking notice of what’s going on there. Time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.