Yavapai College drops basketball, teams play final games

The Roughriders of Yavapai College are getting a rough ride through the turmoil of the state’s budget upheaval.

And now the drastic budget cuts have slam-dunked the athletic department of this small two-year college in Prescott by forcing the elimination of both the men’s and women’s basketball programs.

Friday night was the final games for the Roughriders’ basketball teams, played at home in front of a capacity crowd that had come to witness the turning of this unfortunate page in school history.

The men dropped their game with Eastern Arizona College, 90-81, and conclude their  season with a 11-19 mark overall and 8-14 in conference.

But the women kept their season alive with a 77-72 victory over the Gila Monsters and thus clinched their 25th consecutive NJCAA Region I playoff appearance.   Their regular season mark was 20-10 overall and 12-10 conference.

The players that will go down in the scorebooks on the final night include Kayla Williams, who led the women’s team with 21 points; Tesla Morgan, who came off the bench to score 15; and Jennifer Kelley who was the third in double-digits with 11 points.  On the men’s squad, Dionte Goodlett had team-high with 16 points, followed by Dominique Brooks with 14, and JuWan Buchanan added 13.

The first-round opponent for the Lady Riders was decided with a coin flip yesterday, so now the team begins preparing for Arizona Western College, a team that has beaten them in both meetings during the regular season.  They came within one point of beating AWC in a 91-90 overtime loss, but lost the other by 10.

The first round will be played Wednesday evening in Yuma, with the winner moving on to the championship game Friday at Central Arizona College in Coolidge.

The men’s team is being coached by Eric Fundalewicz, who just took over the program this year.  But a loss Wednesday will bring to a close a 15-year run for Brad Clifford as the Lady Riders’ head coach.

Both coaches were told at the end of January that they needed to cut their programs’ budgets by 10 percent, but then it was decided by the administration that two programs needed to be cut.  Within a week, Fundalewicz and Clifford learned it would be the basketball teams getting the axe.

The basketball programs were begun at the college in the ’70s.  Clifford, who grew up in Prescott and attended high school there, went on to play basketball at Yavapai.

“I really didn’t anticipate this at all,” he told the Prescott Courier.  “Every year we go through a budget process.  We knew we were going to have to cut our budgets a little bit.  We didn’t know how much.”

Now he knows, and he has had some time to prepare for the end.  Both he and Fundalewicz have been making phone calls and sending out emails to try to find new teams for their players next year.

Fundalewicz says he will be moving on at the end of the school year, while Clifford will be staying, at least for now.  He will remain with the athletic department, taking over facilities management – and likely deciding if he wants to begin taking advantage of the master’s degree in business administration he just completed.

I’ve taken my high school and club basketball teams to Clifford’s “Beat the Heat” tournament he runs every summer in Prescott.  The event is well-run and a great opportunity to get out of the summer heat in the Valley.

Hopefully, that’s one tradition that Brad and his family will continue.

And, in time, maybe Yavapai will be able to pick up the pieces and bring basketball back to his college, too.

(Photo: Yavapai Athletics)