When Victoria Kemokai, Tyler Junior College's ball of energy, was introduced on "Sophomore Day," Apache Ladies coach Trenia Tillis-Jones was lamenting that her standout guard's games were near an end in the Black & Gold.
"We are going to miss Vic," Tillis-Jones said of her floor leader.
But first there is a matter of the national tournament.
For the second straight season, Kemokai, who stands 5-3 and hails from Richmond, has led the Apache Ladies to the NJCAA Tournament.
Kemokai, a criminal justice major, is averaging 15.8 points per game while dishing out 3.9 assists. She is shooting 78 percent from the free throw line.
Once again, she will be a key to the Apache Ladies advancing in the national tournament.
TJC (28-4), which is seeded No. 10, will play No. 23 Lawson State (Alabama) (24-9) in a first-round game at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kansas. The Apache Ladies received an at-large bid.
Kemokai has been instrumental in pacing the Apache Ladies to a two-year record of 58-10, with hopes of five more wins that would mean a national championship.
"It means a lot that we have the opportunity of returning to nationals," Kemokai said. "It was great going last year, but everyone knows we have some unfinished business. We are ready to go back and finish what we did not finish last year."
The Apache Ladies made it to the Elite Eight last year, just a win short of the semifinals. In 2014, TJC scored wins over Southwestern Illinois (74-52) and Southern Idaho (102-81) before falling to Hutchinson (Kansas) (87-77).
"This team is more together on and off the court," Kemokai said. "We are also a better rebounding team than last year. … When you have that family atmosphere off the court it makes it so much easier. When things are not going well on the court, it is easier to talk to each other."
Kemokai, a Fort Bend George Bush High School graduate, has a sore knee, but added she will be ready to go once the team gets to Salina.
The All-Region XIV guard is playing the two-guard at times to take advantage of her shooting ability. Kemokai and teammate Brittny Norris are deadly from the outside. When she moves to the two-guard, Sandy Jackson plays point guard.
SMOKE SIGNALS: The Apache Ladies are scheduled to leave Saturday morning and will stop and practice at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. Salina is about 90 miles north of Wichita. … This is the sixth trip to nationals in Salina for the Apache Ladies and the fifth time with Trenia Tillis-Jones as head coach. The Apache Ladies won it all in 2000 under the guidance of former coach Lee Ann Riley. … If the Apache Ladies defeat Lawson State, they will play No. 7 Southern Idaho at 3 p.m. Wednesday. … The Trinity Valley women are seeded No. 3 and will play either No. 14 Eastern Arizona or No. 19 Wallace State (Alabama) at 5 p.m. Wednesday. … The TJC Apaches depart for Hutchinson, Kansas, Saturday afternoon. Their shoot-a-round in Hutchinson is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday. The No. 17 seed Apaches (24-9), the Region XIV champions, will open the tournament at 10 a.m. Monday against No. 16 seed Faulkner State (Alabama). If the Apaches win they will play at 2 p.m. Tuesday against No. 1 Connors State of Oklahoma. … The Trinity Valley Cardinals are the No. 11 seeds and will play No. 22 Monroe (New York) at noon Tuesday. If TVCC wins the Cards will play at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Hutchinson (Kansas). … The San Jacinto Ravens are the No. 15 seed and will meet Columbia State (Tennessee) at 6:30 p.m. Monday. If the Ravens win they will play at noon Wednesday against No. 2 Northwest Florida State.