SARANAC LAKE — Of all the recruits that North Country Community College women's basketball head coach Jerrad Dumont brought into the Saints program, he believes Kayla Carder stands at the top of the list.
On Tuesday, the sophomore who helped lead the Saints women to the first two Region III titles in school history was named a NJCAA Division III first-team All-American.
A season ago, the graduate of Northeastern Clinton was an all-American honorable mention selection competing for a Saints team that finished third in the NJCAA national tournament, and this year, Carder jumped up to being among the group of the top five Division III women's basketball players in the country.
"Leading us to back-to-back regional championships, being a 1,000-point career scorer, her rebounding ability — Kayla has done so much for our program," said Jerrad Dumont, who wrapped up his 12th year as the Saints women's head coach. "Going from an All-American honorable mention last year to being first team this year and a 1,000 -oint scorer, it's hard to argue about her being our top recruit.
"Kayla is a great teammate who worked hard every day," Dumont continued. "She pushed people, she helped people, and she's had a great impact on North Country athletics and the school as a whole."
With Tuesday's announcement, Carder became the second sibling in her family to earn first-team NJCAA All-American status while playing Saints basketball. Her older brother Steve, a 2013 NCCC graduate, received that honor his sophomore season.
"He was very excited, to say the least," Kayla said after talking to her brother. "Looking back, I never saw myself going to North Country, and now, to share this honor with my brother, it's pretty special."
During her two years as a Saints forward, Carder played 62 games and racked up 1,136 points, which Dumont said was 20 shy of the women's school record. She was 11th in the nation in Division III scoring this past season with 558 points. She also hauled down 751 rebounds as a Saint, including 355 as a sophomore, which was fifth in the nation.
When asked what it took to achieve All-American status, Carder answered "It takes everything."
"There were a lot of late hours in the gym, even when you don't want to be there," Carder said. "The most important thing was just focusing on the team success. If you do that, individual success follows."
Instead of highlighting her stats, Carder recalled her fondest time as a Saint came on the first day of March this spring when the team won its second Region III title in a row. A year ago marked the first time North Country's women even played in the championship game, and they followed up that title the next season by hosting the regional final four for the first time.
"I have to say after finishing third in the nation last year, just being able to come back and host the regionals this year, that probably stands out the most for me," Carder said. "Seeing how the community came out to support us, that was really humbling, and to give coach that opportunity was amazing.
"I have a lot of respect for Jerrad Dumont," Carder continued. "We were already fairly close before I came to North Country, but I never knew coming in I would find such a close bond with my coach. We are best friends."
Although Carder has the potential to keep shining on the basketball court at the next level, she said she entered the past season knowing it would be her last one playing in college. She will now focus on a nursing career. Already an licensed practical nurse, Carder had been working full-time at St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center while being a full-time student and playing basketball. She'll graduate from North Country as a registered nurse in less than five weeks, athough without a ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, and will continue her education with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute's online nursing bachelor's degree program. Carder then plans on two more years of college aiming to become a nurse practitioner. The native of Champlain said she'd like to be a traveling nurse, first on the West Coast and then perhaps, in the South.
"After growing up here, I'd love to go somewhere warm," she joked.
Although Carder's playing days are over at North Country, she promised she'll be back at the college's Sparks Athletics Complex in the future.
"I'm the Saints' biggest fan," she said. "I'll be at the games."
Story by Lou Reuter, Adirondack Daily Enterprise