April 13, 2005 - When Mallory Parsons was a senior in high school, people told her she was crazy for passing on guaranteed basketball scholarships, opting instead to take her game, and education, to Central Arizona College.
Nearly two years later, however, the former Marana High School star is a national champion.
Parsons and CAC claimed the National Junior College Athletic Association's Division I women's basketball title on March 26 in Salina, Kan., with a crushing defeat of the College of Southern Idaho, 83-50.
"This was the perfect ending to the season," said Parsons, who will graduate from the Pinal County school in May. "It almost felt like it was supposed to happen."
CAC entered the tournament the winner of 28 straight games dating back to Nov. 11. Once in the tourney, the Arizona Community College Athletics Conference champs never let up.
The Vaqueros (35-1) didn't just win the national title, they did so in record-breaking fashion. In four tourney games, CAC set the NJCAA mark for widest average margin of victory, upending opponents by nearly 24 points per game. Its 33-point win over Southern Idaho was the largest point differential in a NJCAA title game.
Last season, the Vaqueros finished third in the NJCAA tournament.
"I never could have imagined some of the things that happened here," Parsons said. "I wish it was a four-year school."
The championship for CAC was the third in the program's history under head coach Lin Laursen. The Vaqueros have won the past 20 ACCAC titles.
Her tenure at CAC may be over, but Parsons' education will continue. The sophomore is scouring the country for a school to attend in the fall. Over the weekend of April 8 through 10, she visited Smith College, a private liberal arts college in Northampton, Mass. Other tour stops will include Claremont Mckenna College in Claremont, Calif., and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
Wherever Parson decides to settle, the sophomore said she will know right away when she sees it. As for playing basketball at the next level, Parsons has yet to decide whether to concentrate solely on her academics or to jump back onto the hardwood.
Making the transition from junior college to a major NCAA basketball program is difficult, but not impossible. Parsons saw that firsthand when Rashidat Sadiq, her closest friend from last season's Vaquero squad, became the first junior college transfer to make the women's hoops squad at NCAA powerhouse Connecticut.
Sadiq was an NJCAA All-American for CAC last season.
Wherever Parsons winds up, the school will be getting more than just a two-year team captain. In her first year at CAC, Parsons won the school's award for Academic Freshman of the Year. A year later, she is up for the same award as a sophomore.
"I got straight A's this semester," said an optimistic Parsons. "The rest is up to the teachers."
Parsons, who will receive her associate's degree in science, hasn't pinpointed a career direction yet. She's leaving herself open to doing anything from studying biological medicine to becoming a professor or even a coach.
As for the detractors, choosing CAC was the best decision she ever made, Parsons said.