Lual (Left) and Batista (Right) rise up over defenders in non-conference games early in the season. (Photo courtesy of the MCC Athletic Department)

Mesa Community College basketball programs start seasons strong

Both the men and women’s basketball teams for Mesa Community College are off to great starts this season as the women are ranked No. 6 in the country, third in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference,and the men have already tied their win total from last year just seven games in.

The women’s team continues to be dominant in their first seven games of the year, as they hold a 6-1 overall record, and a 3-0 conference record. 

Their lone loss on the season came to the then No. 2 team in the country, Morton College. The Lady Thunderbirds held tough with the Panthers throughout the game, but fell in the end 78-72.

This season, the Lady Thunderbirds have averaged 78 points per game on 45.6% shooting from the floor. Their points per game is the second most in the ACCAC, behind only Pima Community College, who have averaged 79.8 points a contest. 

The team has not only put a lot of points on the board, but they have done it at an efficient rate, as they shoot 45.6% from the floor and 39.2% from three point range. Both of these are the best in the conference by at least 2% in both categories. 

MCC has four players that rank top 15 as far as three-point shooting percentage goes in the conference as Kada Taliman, Mykah Anderson, AnnMarie Batista, and Mackenzie Shivers are all shooting 35% or better from behind the three point line.

Taliman leads the conference as she shoots 53.1% from deep. Taliman also has the fourth best field goal percentage as she is shooting 53.8%.

MCC does a good job sharing the ball and getting the team involved offensively, as they have five players averaging double figures, the most in the ACCAC. 

They also lead the ACCAC in assists per game with 17.7. 

Mykah Anderson, the sophomore guard for the Thunderbirds, dishes out the most assists per contest with 5.6, while her teammate Mackenzie Shivers averages 3.4 a game.

A piece of the MCC women’s program which seems to be a bit lacking thus far in the season might be their defense, at least when compared to last year. 

So far in the season, the Thunderbirds are holding opponents to 61.3 points per game on 36.3% shooting from the floor and 24.6% from behind the three-point stripe. 

These are, by no means,  bad averages to hold your competition to. The points allowed are middle of the pack in the ACCAC, while the three-point and field goal percentages are both top five.

Last season, MCC allowed 55.4 points a game through their first seven games. In eight of the first 28 quarters, they were able to hold their opponents to 10 or less points, an accomplishment they have only had twice in the first 28 quarters this season. 

The season is still very young, and MCC has multiple defensive pieces who are capable of locking up the best talent in the conference. 

In their matchup against South Mountain and Central Arizona, the Thunderbirds were going up against a top three scorer in the league and were able to not only hold them to below their season averages, but hold South Mountain’s Pa’Shence Walker to just four points.

The team has five players who average a steal or more per game, while also having three players average just around a block per contest. 

The men’s team is coming off of their worst season in program history, as they went 5-20 last season. 

As they lost their long time coach Sam Ballard to retirement just weeks before the season started, the team had interim coach Jimmy Herrera step in for the year. The team would go on to average 68 points a game, the lowest in over ten seasons. 

New Head Coach Lester Neal is now leading the team and has instilled a culture of hard work and discipline into the team.. 

So far this season, the team have averaged 84.4 points a game on 47.5% shooting from the field. Though both stats are middle to lower end in the conference, they are an improvement compared to last year. 

Last year, MCC was led by ACCAC 2nd Team All-Region DI player Bj Burries, who averaged 15.1 points a game. However, the scoring is much more of a team effort this season.

Just like the women’s team, the men have five players averaging double figures scoring led by sophomore guard Timmy Johnson, who puts up 15.1 points a game for the Thunderbirds. Johnson is enjoying a great start to his sophomore campaign, as he is averaging 7.9 more points a game on 10% better shooting on the floor than last season.

First year Thunderbirds have been making an impact on the game, as Nicholas Riley, a freshman forward, is a top five rebounder in the conference by bringing down eight a game while also averaging 11.2 points. 

Freshman Evan Clayton is the second leading scorer for the team, as he averages 13.7 points per contest on 50% shooting from the field. 

Lual Lual is averaging 10.3 points a game while securing seven rebounds per contest. 

Timmy Johnson, and six other returners from last season, have also helped contribute to the team’s success. 

Tampa Scott is averaging 10.6 points a game while averaging 3.2 assists. Justin Chambers is averaging 9.9 points a game on 61.1% shooting from the field which ranks 11th best in the ACCAC.

Though the men have dropped their last two games they went toe to toe with the number one team in the conference, Chandler-Gilbert Community College,  as they held a double digit lead multiple times in the first half. 

MCC was the first school this season to not trail the Coyotes at halftime. The score was tied, 36-36. However, a strong second half push by CGCC saw them power past the Thunderbirds. 

The season is young for both squads, and both have seen success and growth in their teams. 

As the women look to repeat as Region I Division II champions, and the men look to build up their program with Neal at the helm, look for these Thunderbirds to take flight to new heights.

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