Kori Stephenson, head coach of Mesa Community College’s women basketball team, holds the Region I DII playoff final against Scottsdale Community College alongside the team. (Photo by Rey Covarrubias Jr./ The Mesa Legend)

2023-2024 Thunderbird women’s basketball team finishes season third in country

The women’s basketball team at Mesa Community College finished the 2023-2024  season third in the nation after defeating Community College of Baltimore County Essex 60-48 to finish their season with a 28-7 overall record, going 18-5 in conference play.

The record was good for first place in the conference, their second time achieving the rank since 2020 and seventh overall in the past 10 years. 

This season also marked head coach Kori Stephenson’s 18th year at the helm and 11th first place finish in the conference. 

Freshman guard CeCe Cabrero checking out of the game during their contest against Chandler-Gilbert Community College on March 7, 2024. (Photo by Rey Covarrubias Jr./ The Mesa Legend)

The team’s .800 overall winning percentage is also the third best finish under Stephenson, with their .783 conference winning percentage, the fourth best under Stephenson’s tenure, cementing their legacy as one of the best to play for MCC.

“We’re really proud of bringing home a trophy, and I don’t know if they realize that at the moment, like how important that was, but being there’s I think 152 or 132 teams in junior college Division II and we placed third. Gosh darn I’m excited,” said Stephenson.

The team’s success has often been credited to the team’s chemistry, according to players like freshman guard Aaliyah Garcia.

“Well, honestly throughout the summer we worked with each other and Coach Corey always mentioned that we’re the first team to actually come together during the summer and actually work out through June all the way until now, so we’ve been with each other every single day,” said Garcia after the team’s conference championship game.

The team chemistry may have played a part in the team’s success even from the early stages of the season. 

The Mesa Community College bench keeps spirits high during their contest against Chandler-Gilbert Community College on March 7, 2024. (Photo by Rey Covarrubias Jr./ The Mesa Legend)

The Thunderbirds began the season 4-2 in the month of November, with three of the four wins coming against DI opponents. 

MCC’s 63-60 win over College of Southern Idaho on Nov. 18 was especially impressive, as the Golden Eagles were an undefeated 7-0 team at the time and ranked third in the country by the National Junior College Athletic Association amongst the DI programs.

The Thunderbirds also defeated DII opponent Morton College 77-71 on Nov. 11, a program coming off of an undefeated regular season from the prior year and were ranked fifth in the country in the preseason polls.

After the great start, MCC sat at third in the country in the NJCAA DII polls.

“Yea just playing our own game. We’re not thinking that we are DII and they are DI, we’re going out there with the mindset that whoever we play, we are going to play with respect and at the same time play our hardest,” said freshman guard Jaida Brooks in November 2023 after the team’s hot start.

The Thunderbirds began their conference schedule in December and went 4-1, losing to DI conference opponent Yavapai College on Dec. 16.

A game that would prove to be particularly impactful would be the Dec. 9 home game against Pima Community College.

The Aztecs entered the game 6-1 overall and undefeated in conference play.

The Thunderbirds were down by five points with just 1:34 to play in the game, but clutch free throws from freshman guard Mackenzie Shivers and Brooks, as well as a layup by Brooks, tied the game.

Mesa Community College women’s basketball point guard, Mackenzie Shivers, gets ready to attempt a free throw against Scottsdale Community College at the Region I DII playoff final on March 9, 2024. (Photo by Rey Covarrubias Jr./ The Mesa Legend)

Pima sophomore forward Dominique Acosta would split a pair of free throws with 18 seconds remaining in the game, opening the door for MCC.

A layup by Hurd with 13 seconds left would end up as the winning basket, giving the Thunderbirds a 73-72 victory.

Brooks led the team with a fantastic performance, as she scored 26 points and added five rebounds and five assists.

The Thunderbirds would hold an advantage in the season series against Pima with the win. Winning the season series gives a team the tiebreaker advantage over the other in final playoff seeding, a distinction which comes into play at the end of the regular season.

The bulk of the schedule would begin at the start of the new year with a close 51-47 loss to DI conference opponent Arizona Western College on Jan. 3, a game in which the Thunderbirds held a five point lead in the fourth quarter.

The loss would be the Thunderbird’s last until Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, as MCC would go on to win 11 games in a row.

The narrowest win of the streak took place on Jan. 13 against Scottsdale Community College when the Thunderbirds won 52-51.

Redshirt freshman guard Kamiyah Hurd and freshman guard Ashiian Hunter were the only Thunderbirds to score in double digits, as Hurd finished with 14 and Hunter had 12.

The Thunderbirds overcame a five point deficit of their own in this game, as MCC would close the last four minutes of the game on a 6-0 scoring run to win.

A Hurd go-ahead layup would give the Thunderbirds the lead with 26 seconds to go in the game.

A defensive stop on the other end of the floor would ice the game and extend the streak to three games at the time.

The Thunderbirds hosted Pima for the second time on Jan. 20 as the one and two seeded teams in the conference at the time would play the second game of their season series. If the Thunderbirds won, they would win the season series.

A layup by Pima freshman guard Rylei Waugh tied the game at 50-50 with 1:55 remaining. 

The Thunderbirds would score the games final points after a layup by freshman forward Brittany Kogbara and free throws from Shivers gave the team a 54-50 win, and the season series victory as well.

Brooks had another big scoring game against Pima with 24 in this contest, as Hurd and Kogbara both had double digit rebounds. 

A Feb. 3 victory over Central Arizona left an impression on coach Stephenson.

The Thunderbirds held the lead for much of the game, and a dominant fourth quarter pushed them to an 11 point victory.

However, it was the team’s mental acuity that stood out to Stephenson.

“At halftime against Central, I walked in and they were really doing a lot of the adjustments on their own, they didn’t need me. That was a really important game. I just remember leaving halftime and I knew we’re in a good spot as a team,” said Stephenson in early March of this year.

The Thunderbirds would only lose two more games the rest of the season, including a seven point loss on the road against Pima in the aforementioned Valentine’s Day game on Feb. 14, and a road loss to Cochise College in the final game of the regular season on March 4.

An in depth look at the Thunderbird’s playoff run can be exclusively viewed in The Mesa Legend’s March E-version.

“They started taking pride in the scout team, which only made the team better, so practices were competitive,” said Stephenson.

The season-long focus on improving and getting better as a team began in the offseason summer sessions of 2023.

The 2023-2024 Mesa Community College women’s basketball team moments after they secured their win against Scottsdale Community College at the Region I DII playoff final on March 9, 2024. (Photo by Rey Covarrubias Jr./ The Mesa Legend)

“Ever since June fifth, since we started workouts this summer, going through it [with] our track workouts and weight room workouts. It was conditioning and being there for each other and knowing we have each other’s back. It’s really what’s got us through [the season],” said Shivers after their conference championship win.

Brooks has announced her intention to transfer to UC Irvine for next year, according to Stephenson.

The 2023-2024 Thunderbird women’s basketball adds to the history of MCC with their conference championship victory and national playoff run to finish the season third in the country.

The 2023-2024 Mesa Community College women’s basketball team after their win against Scottsdale Community College at the Region I DII playoff final on March 9, 2024. (Photo by Rey Covarrubias Jr./ The Mesa Legend)
  • Adam Terro

    Adam Terro is the Sports Editor for the Mesa Legend. He joined the staff in January 2021 and first published with the Legend in fall 2020. His passion is for sports, specifically football and basketball.

    View all posts

Welcome to the Mesa Legend! Subscribe to know more about what goes on at Mesa Community College!