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Depth could propel CAC women back to NJCAA Tournament

Morticia McCall hits for 16 off the bench.-Oscar Perez Pinal Central
Morticia McCall hits for 16 off the bench.-Oscar Perez Pinal Central

SIGNAL PEAK – Versatility is expected to be a strong suit for the Central Arizona College women's basketball team this season.

"It's refreshing to see we have so many weapons instead of just one or two go-to players," CAC coach Denise Cardenas said. "We have a talented group. Things just have to come together."

The Vaqueras begin the season Thursday against Howard, Texas. It's the first of three games they'll play in Hobbs, New Mexico.

CAC has four returners and nine newcomers, and seven of those players are possible starters.

"We have the potential to be very deep," Cardenas said.

Among the returners are guard Morticia McCall, who was named to the all-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference second team, and shooting guard Megan Guadian.

McCall averaged 13.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 2017-18. Guadain ranked second in the ACCAC in 3-point shooting with a .413 percentage. She averaged 9.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

Point guard Alexis Vaughn averaged 4.2 assists (third in the ACCAC), along with 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds. Also back is forward Zhane Lewis (3.9 points, 2.7 rebounds).

Among the newcomers, potential starters include Jeuzel Pollins at point guard, Makayla Pippin at forward or guard, Kenya Henderson at forward and Ayanna Clark, who at 6-foot-3 is the team's tallest player.

The 6-1 Pippin comes to CAC with McDonald's All-America honorable mention accolades. Former Casa Grande Union High School standout Taylor Davis (6-2) also is projected to receive significant minutes.

"We have some height," Cardenas said.

Rounding out the roster are guards Alyssa Estrada, Ariana Davis, Alaja Edwards and Alexia Marsh.

The Vaqueras are seeking to return to the NJCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. They went 22-10 overall and posted a 17-5 ACCAC mark last season to qualify as the second seed in the three-team Division I Region 1 tournament. After thumping third-seeded Arizona Western 78-58 at home in the opening round of the region tourney, Central lost 78-63 at top-seeded Cochise in the title game.

The Apaches (29-3, 21-1 ACCAC) are once again favored to finish atop in the 12-team ACCAC, which has only four D-I members (Eastern Arizona is the other). Western went 21-10 overall and 16-6 in conference play last season. Eastern went 5-25, 5-17.

The Apaches have "major talent, and they're big," Cardenas said. Their top player is ACCAC D-I player of the year Awa Keita, who was named to the NJCAA All-America second team.

Mesa (28-8, 19-3) and Pima (23-9, 16-6) are expected to battle for the top spot in D-II. Mesa advanced to the semifinals of the national tournament last season.

Cardenas enters her 11th season as CAC's coach with a 277-50 overall record (.847) and a 198-18 mark (.917) against conference opponents. In her first year after taking over for Hall of Fame coach Lin Laursen, the Vaqueras went 35-0 and captured the program's fourth national championship in 2009.

Central was the 2013 runner-up at nationals and also reached the NJCAA Final Four in 2012 and 2014.

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