Kropp, Guilford Tech set sights on national championship

Former Polk County standout Hayley Kropp

Hayley Kropp admits that among the adjustments she’s had to make in her first season of college basketball is relearning the joy of winning on a regular basis.

Guilford Technical Community College has offered Kropp plenty of lessons to that end.

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The Lady Titans have rolled to a 28-3 record this season, earning a regional championship and a berth in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Women’s Basketball Championship. Guilford Tech’s quest for a national title begins Tuesday at noon with a first-round game against St. Louis Community College. All games in the event are scheduled to be streamed over the Internet at http://www.njcaatv.com.

Four wins from a national championship after a 9-14 senior season at Polk County has been quite a journey for Kropp.

“It’s crazy,” Kropp said. “To go from winning nine games to winning 28 games, it’s awesome. I forgot what it was like to win that many games.”

Kropp has been front and center for many of those 28 wins. The GTCC freshmen is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 11.7 points per game for a deep and talented lineup that averages 83 points per game, among the top 10 figures in the country.

Kropp also grabbed 5.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, and her 42.3 percent shooting from the 3-point line ranks 11th in the nation. Kropp also sits in the top 30 nationally in steals (84) and 3-pointers (71), numbers that helped her earn all-region honors this season.

Those statistics are solid for a first-year player, but Kropp admits making the transition to the college game has been a challenge.

“At first, going from high school to college, the game was a lot faster,” she said. “I eventually got used to it, but it’s been a lot different. It took me a while to get the hang of it.

“You learn so much defensively. There’s a lot more to the game in college than in high school. You learn that quickly.”

Kropp admitted that it also took a while to bond with her new teammates, but she has had a familiar presence by her side throughout. Her twin sister, Ashley, has served as a manager and is travelling with the team to Arkansas for the national tournament.

Kropp’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed – four-year schools have begun calling her, and there’s a chance Kropp could be suiting up next season for one of those programs. She has worked as hard in the classroom, where she has a 3.5 grade-point average to date, as she has on the court in order to make such a move possible.

But before worrying about her future, Kropp is focused on the present and winning the 16-team Division II championship, being held on the campus of North Arkansas College. Guilford Tech enters as the sixth seed in the field and will face an 11th-seeded St. Louis squad that has won 12 straight games and features one of the nation’s top players in 5-11 freshman Chrishana Wilson, ranked third in the country in rebounding and fourth in steals.

The Lady Titans are themselves on an 11-game winning streak and reached the national tourney with regional tournament wins over Louisburg and Cape Fear, both ranked in the top 20 in the final NJCAA regular-season poll. Having battled through a very tough Region X this season, Kropp said Guilford takes very high hopes into the national event, where the Lady Titans would need to win four games in five days to be crowned champions.

“Hopefully, we can win it. I think we’ve got a good chance,” Kropp said. “It’s going to be different. We’re happy to be there, but I think we’ve got a good shot.

“We play 13 players, and you don’t see many teams with that big a bench. We don’t really get tired a lot. We’re pretty much built for this kind of tournament.”

Members of Guilford Technical Community College’s team ran into former Duke standout Quinn Cook on Sunday morning during their layover in Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport while flying to Arkansas. Former Polk County standout Hayley Kropp is at far left. Her sister, Ashley, is third from right.