Blue Springs graduate Camryn Swanson and Truman grad Brodi Byrd had solid high school basketball careers, but never got to experience a state championship or even a final four appearance.
But their college careers are a different story, as they got their first taste of a title – a national championship to be exact.
Byrd and Swanson were a big part of Kansas City Kansas Community College winning the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division II Championship Final as it defeated Union County College (N.J.), 84-59, on March 23 in Harrison, Arkansas.
The Blue Devils had a sizeable fan section storm the court following the win. The players and fans huddled up and jumped up and down at the center of the court. It was a moment Byrd and Swanson will never forget.
“It was exciting. It’s something we wanted to do since the beginning of the season,” Byrd said. “We had hard competition throughout the year. Nothing was guaranteed, but it was great to go there and win it all.”
In the game against Union County, Byrd scored nine points, grabbed two rebounds and had an assist. Swanson came off the bench to score 11 points and grabbed three rebounds.
“I got subbed out in the fourth quarter of the national championship game, and just seeing all the sophomores hugging each other, it was the last time for us to play together, so it was bittersweet,” Swanson said. “I am glad we finished our goal.”
KCK played four games in the national tournament and won by an average of nearly 21 points. The Blue Devils, who finished 32-4 overall, were really only challenged in the semifinals when they defeated Cape Fear Community College (N.C.) 83-75.
“The four games we lost, we really did that to ourselves,” Byrd said. “We could have went undefeated. (The season) honestly went as planned.”
Their toughest test overall was within the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference. They faced some of the teams in the conference in the Region VI Division II tournament. The Blue Devils escaped with a 79-76 overtime win over Johnson County in the semifinals before winning the championship against Highland 84-71. In that game, Byrd scored 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting, had eight rebounds and three assists. Swanson chipped in with six points and seven rebounds.
After winning the regional tournament, Byrd and Swanson said the team felt like the national championship was in the bag.
“Every team in our conference was tough,” Swanson said. “We always battled with Johnson County and Highland a little bit. Those two teams were probably our toughest challenge.
“Once we got through our conference, the national tournament was a lot easier.”
Added Byrd: “No one in the nation plays as hard of teams as we do.”
Swanson and Byrd were a part of a team that was adept at scoring in the post, while they provided shooting from the perimeter. Nija Collier, a sophomore forward, led the team with 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Fellow forward Lillie Moore averaged 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Byrd and Swanson held down the fort at the guard position. Byrd averaged 8.9 points, 3 rebounds and 1 steal per game and shot 34.5 percent from 3-point range. Swanson averaged 8.6 points and shot 36 percent from deep.
“We were pretty balanced,” Swanson said. “We had a lot of guards who could shoot the ball. And our forwards were the best in the country. Our opponents goal was to shut down our inside game. We were really good at scoring inside.”
Byrd, who is a freshman, said the goal remains the same next year as KCK will aim for back-to-back national championships.
For Swanson, she will look to land with a nearby Division II basketball team, as she finished her second season with the Blue Devils.
“My goal is to play in the MIAA (Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association),” Swanson said. “So any of those schools would be good, whoever reaches out.”