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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Cooper

Reasons to Root for Howard Community College Lady Dragons

1. A Program on the Rise

The Howard Community College women's basketball program is only a decade old and started with little fanfare. As recently as 2017, the coaches were desperate for players and would take practically anyone to fill open slots on their roster. A few athletes consequently faced the JUCO fire right away while picking up basketball on the fly.

That season, HCC finished with a record of 0-18. The following year, the team won only seven games. The Lady Dragons were at the bottom of the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference.

"We were a team people ‘wrote off,’" HCC Head Coach Eryn Barnes said. "They knew when they played Howard Community College, they were going to win."

That changed during the 2019-2020 season. HCC achieved their highest win total in school history, going 20-10, and made it to the semifinals of the Region 20 tournament, falling just short of a regional championship berth.

"We are proud of the fact that we've changed that narrative, and we just continued to work hard every day,” Coach Barnes said. "Bringing our best effort and letting the chips fall where they may. "

Over the past two seasons, HCC has played in the semifinals in their region but ultimately fell twice to teams they beat previously. After facing a heartbreaking loss in the semis last season, HCC is determined to make it to the regional championship in 2023 and finish what they started.

2. Second-Year Head Coach

Barnes joined the HCC staff as an associate head coach in 2017. She earned her promotion to head coach for the 2021-2022 season.

Coach Barnes’ history at HCC goes back further than 2017 though, as she had her fist assistant coaching opportunity with the team in 2012-2014. She knows the low of a year without any wins, and the high of reaching the semis.

In her first year, Coach Barnes led the Lady Dragons to a 16-10 record. For her second season as head coach, Coach Barnes wants to see her team reach the 20-win mark again and finally make it to the regional championship.

Ultimately, she aspires to make the HCC women's team a powerhouse in the Maryland JUCO Conference.

3. Future Players

Typically, players who don an HCC jersey don't come with much hype or aren’t highly sought after, giving them something to prove when they play.

"We beat many teams last year, so when we see them this year, you know they're coming with their best shot,” Coach Barnes said. "That's something that we don't take for granted."

While of the Lady Dragons historically was an unsung team, HCC is starting to wield some recruiting clout. Standing at 5'11, Julia Harrington brings a championship mentality to the HCC team, being a part of a D2 national championship team the previous season. Coach Barnes gives her props on coming in and being ready to work.

"She's strong, athletic, and very mobile," Coach Barnes said. "She's a monster on the glass and a great teammate." Harrington is currently averaging 10.9 points per game, 8.6 rebounds and 1.09 steals per game.

At the guard position, Nhaikyia Smith redshirted the 2021-2022 season and was a two-sport athlete, winning the JUCO regional championship for cross-country. Smith can put the ball in the basket, averaging 14.6 points per game, 5.2 assists, and 2.9 steals per game so far this season.

Forward Mikiyah Mallett has gotten off to a great start in her collegiate career, averaging 10.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game to date.

4. Coming Together for Common Goal

"We have four pillars in our program that we try to emphasize daily: discipline, accountability, toughness, both mental and physical, and having a good attitude," Coach Barnes said. "So, we try to live by and emphasize those things daily."

With only four returning players from the previous season, HCC has had to reload with a roster filled with a majority of freshmen. To be a successful team this year, team chemistry had to develop quickly. So, outside of basketball, the players socialize and participate in various activities. This Thanksgiving, the entire squad gathered for camaraderie, games, and enjoyment of each other's company.

"That helps to build chemistry because they get to know each other on a different level," Coach Barnes said. "They get to understand and see that they have much more in common than just basketball."

The ability to hone on this part of team building will reap dividends later in the season, when players will have to use discipline and work through adversity when tested.

5. Scholar Athletes

Trying to attain the common goal in the region 20 championship is one thing, but managing academics as a student-athlete is another.

"I think them understanding the time management and the commitment it takes to be a college student and athlete, especially because you have to balance between your classes," said Coach Barnes, preparing her players for the rigors of work-life balance.

"Then wanting to have a social life and hang out with your friends and things like that, the transition from high school to college is a big challenge for many incoming freshmen."

While being a great athlete propels you forward, having the academics to back it up is the true definition of being a student first and an athlete second. Kalani Korkeron, a sophomore guard, exemplifies this. Korkeron, a physical therapy major, has a 3.8 GPA. Sarah Deese, a sophomore guard and Hospitality major, has a 3.8 GPA as well.

"We do a great job of preparing our students and student-athletes for the next level going on to four-year schools," Coach Barnes said.

In Coach Barnes's first season as head coach, she secured three out of four of her sophomores a scholarship to a four-year school. With four returning sophomores on the roster this season, she hopes to prepare them for their next endeavor after HCC, whether on the hardwood or furthering their education.

Shouldn't an athlete who excels both on the court and in the classroom be recognized for their efforts away from the game?

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