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COC women's basketball: A star is formed

COC’s Lewis pushed through three separate ACL tears to take the reins of the Cougars

Posted: February 22, 2010 9:21 p.m.
Updated: February 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Hart High graduate and College of the Canyons point guard Kelli Lewis has battled back from three ACL injuries to star for the Cougars.

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The surgical scars that crisscross both knees tell a story, but not nearly as well as Kelli Lewis does.

While at Hart High School, Lewis tore an anterior cruciate ligament in her knees three separate times in three years, the third leading to a meniscus tear during her senior season in 2007-2008.

But there were little other accolades, including college attention.

“It was devastating,” Lewis says of the injuries. “But I never gave up, because I always felt that I was never a quitter. Quitting is a sign of weakness.”

After her injuries dashed any chance at a four-year scholarship, Lewis says she wanted to do the smart thing by staying near home, saving money and then transferring to a university.

She redshirted at College of the Canyons last year, keeping the Cougars’ scorebook and waiting for her turn to play.

This season, she’s taken that chance and run with it.

The Cougars seem to be following their new point guard’s cue, shaking off a slow start and setting themselves up for what could be a deep run in the Southern California Regional Playoffs, which they’ll start this Saturday at Los Angeles Trade Tech at 7 p.m.

After starting 3-4, the team is riding a 19-game winning streak which COC head coach Greg Herrick says is two shy of the school’s record.

The Cougars (22-4) locked up their 10th Western State Conference title after beating Santa Monica 85-73 on Feb. 13.

“I won’t doubt what these kids are capable of anymore,” Herrick says. “I’m ready to go to war with them.”

Given what Lewis has been through, there’s no doubting her capabilities.

Herrick says Lewis’ strong play has been important, as the point guard always is in his system.

“Not every team tries to play 1,000 miles per hour and score in seven seconds,” Herrick says.

He compares the point guard to another position in another sport.

“It’s almost like the QB of the football team. Hart High’s always had that string of QBs,” he says, referring to Hart’s six straight NCAA Division I signal-callers from 1997-2005. “And we’ve had a string of point guards.”

It includes former Cougars Kyetra Brown, a point guard who was the state’s all-time career assists leader and earned a tryout for the Sparks. Two-time Western State Conference MVP Leslie Ortiz later broke Brown’s mark, and Herrick says COC’s career scoring leader Sha’Tasha Allen also deserves mention.

Herrick says if Lewis stays another year — and the redshirt freshman says she intends to — then she could easily earn a spot on that list.

The steady improvement of Lewis’ numbers makes a convincing argument. She’s averaging 11.5 points, nearly six assists and 1.5 steals per game.

In a game on Dec. 12, Lewis shined with 22 points, 11 assists and two steals in the Cougars’ 73-68 win over Mt. San Antonio College, arguably the toughest team on their schedule.

It was also the win that kicked off the team’s current streak.

Herrick says it’s no coincidence that Lewis’ improvement and the winning streak coincided with one another.

He also says Lewis has made her teammates better. Two other Cougars, Ashley Wakefield and Joslynn Frazier, are in the conference’s top 10 in scoring averages.

Wakefield, a sophomore forward, has raised her scoring average seven points from last year. Herrick says there’s no question that Wakefield, who has garnered conference MVP consideration, is one of Lewis’ biggest beneficiaries.

Wakefield seems to agree.

“(Lewis) is the person that leads the team, we have to follow,” Wakefield says. “The point guard’s job is to show leadership when something’s not going right, and she knows what to do as a point guard and she understands how to be a one. She’s very smart with the ball.”

Herrick says the way Lewis is playing, it’s only a matter of time before college coaches come knocking.

Lewis says she hasn’t gotten a lot of looks yet, but her achievements in the classroom coupled with her injuries pushed her goals more toward academics, not hoops.

But she’s not concerned about the past.

The future has always been more important to Lewis, who says she’d like to go to UCLA or USC.

“I’m trying to get in there based on grades. I have a 3.56 (GPA), so I’m trying to keep up my grades,” she adds, mentioning that she might try to walk on to play basketball somewhere.

“So, if basketball is part of that, it’s great, but it’s about the university experience.”

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