When it comes to teams beating the odds, few in college basketball can top the Tartan Pride women of Sinclair Community College.
Going into Wednesday night’s game with visiting Edison State, Sinclair is 6-0.
It’s ranked No. 1 in the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference.
It’s ranked No 15 in the nation in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll.
… And it’s doing this with just six players.
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Five were recruited and one is a recent walk-on who joined the team after interim head coach Trendale Perkins, desperate to add to the Pride’s completely empty bench, posted fliers around the campus announcing tryouts for players.
Three people answered the plea, two were kept and, within a week, one of the pair quit.
That left Jennifer Witker, a former Bellbrook High School swimmer and the final additional to a remarkable sextet whose early-season success seems to warrant some kind of catchy moniker.
“No, we’ve got no name,” said Amanda Schroeder, the star sophomore out of Carroll High School whose 27.3 points per game average ranks her No 2 in nation in scoring among the NJCAA’s Division II schools.
DC Comics had the “Secret Six” and in Marvel Comics, Spider Man’s rivals were the “Sinister Six”. Then there was a Nick Nolte and Adam Sandler in the forgettable movie, “The Ridiculous Six.”
The best comparison may be with the “Bionic Six,” a TV series from the 1980s about six machine-enhanced people with supernatural powers.
The Sinclair Six have some of that.
Schroeder is averaging a whopping 39.3 minutes a game. Point guard Kierre James is averaging 36 minutes and 18.2 points.
Myalisa Beal, who averaged just 8.8 minutes in the 20 games she got in last season, now is playing 36 minutes a contest. Even Witker is averaging 29.5 minutes a game.
“It seems crazy that we’re able to run the whole game, but we always do,” Witker said. “You just adjust and you find a way to do it with just six.”
As James explained: “You only need five players to win.”
And Keeara Nared took it even further: “You’ve got to start with five, but you only need four to finish a game.”
That hasn’t happened this season, but Sinclair was left with only five available players after Nared fouled out early in the fourth quarter of a 75-59 victory over Miami Middletown earlier this month.
And when the Pride topped Wright Patterson Air Force Base, 78-75, in overtime a week later, James and Schroeder played the entire 45 minutes, while Beal played 44 and Nared 43.
“Yeah, it’s tough but we don’t dwell on that,” Perkins said. “You work with what you’ve got and what we have is six players.”
Dealt a tough hand
Yet, there’s no denying Perkins was dealt a tough hand when he took over the program after Victoria Jones – the OCCAC Coach of the Year last season who led the Pride to a 27-4 record, 21 straight wins and a league title – left in mid-summer to become the athletic director for Euclid City schools.
A former All City basketball player at Patterson Co-op and an Ohio University linebacker, he had been Jones’ assistant coach three seasons.
As interim head coach, he had to put together a staff – he brought in Danielle Roe and Ericka Guy as assistants – and he had shore up a roster that lost four players to graduation, including Sinclair’s so-called “Twin Tower” rebounders, Arryn Evans, who went on to Central State and Madison Connally-Banks, who went to Grambling State.
Perkins did manage to pick up one freshman player, Springfield High School’s Julona Martin, who he said had planned to go to Rio Grande but, “ her paperwork got messed up” and she ended up sitting at home.
And that’s where Perkins’ luck ran out.
Alyssa Bowman, who had played in all 31 of Sinclair’s games last season, averaged 7.6 points and likely would have been starter this year, dropped out of school and works at Elsa’s her former teammates said.
T’erra Eubanks, a four-year All-GWOC player from Springfield High School, transferred from Urbana University but then tore her ACL and was lost for the season.
Nared figured six or six potential players were lost for one reason or another this season.
“Some players around here I guess don’t know we have a team and others think they don’t want to play for a JUCO,” Beal said. “The thing is, they’re really missing out.”
Witker agreed: “My first year here I thought of coming out, but just didn’t get to it. I’m so happy I did now. I’m having a lot of fun with it.”
‘We’ve had to adjust on the fly’
When practice started late Monday afternoon, the Pride was missing its head coach, an assistant and one player.
Perkins was just getting off his job as a case worker at the Montgomery County Job Center and Guy was en route from her day as a substitute teacher with Dayton Public Schools.
Witker wouldn’t arrive from her lab class until 4:40 p.m.
“We’ve had to adjust on the fly,” Perkins admitted after he arrived.
The team can’t scrimmage five-on-five unless the three coaches and the team manager join in, too. And because players log so many minutes in the games, the coaches are trying to spare them from some of the rigors of practice.
Monday, Schroeder watched most drills while sitting on a chair beneath one basket. Rather than run laps, she walked slowly back and forth across the court.
“We’ve had to teach them the game within the game,” said Rowe, who once starred at Sinclair and then played at Kentucky Wesleyan. “We do what we can to preserve their bodies.”
So far it seems to be working.
“I think that’s what surprises everyone,” said Nared. “A lot of people underestimate us now. They feel like we’ve got just six people so they’re gonna just roll over us. But we get on the court and we play together. We have a real chemistry. We know each other well and because of all this we’re playing for each other. And out on the court we just stay after you.”
And that’s when she suddenly had her own name for herself and her five teammates:
“Yeah, we do have just six players, but we stay on you like dogs.
“We’ve got six dogs.”