Jan. 14, 2011
Battle of the Bearcats Saturday in Bolivar
By David Boyce
At some point, in all likelihood, Northwest Missouri State women's basketball team will hit a crossroad in the second half in its game Saturday evening at Southwest Baptist.
One or two plays will determine if Northwest comes away with a victory or its seven-game winning streak comes to an end.
If the game is indeed close, Northwest won't have to dwell deep in its memory bank for positive reinforcement.
Northwest is coming off a 75-72 victory over Central Missouri on Wednesday at Bearcat Arena.
Before the Central thriller, the Bearcats went on the road and defeated Truman 73-72 in double overtime.
"A lot of people don't know all the little things that happened before that game," Northwest coach Gene Steinmeyer said.
It started a couple of days before the game when Gentry Dietz missed practice last Thursday with the flu.
During this time of the year, one player catching the flu or a cold can only mean a headache for the head coach.
The next day Melissa Nyquist missed practice because of sickness. Starting guard Shelly Martin was so sick she couldn't even make the trip to Kirksville, Mo. That meant a key three-point shooter was missing from Northwest's attack.
In addition, forward Alexis Boeh threw up on the bus ride and in the second half, starting guard Gabby Curtis was clutching her stomach.
But the Bearcats still won.
"It was very important because it showed even through adversity we found a way to win," junior forward Tara Roach said. "It's awesome to know that we might not have some of our key players and we can find a way to win. Players from the bench stepped up."
One of those players was sophomore guard Ashley Thayer. She normally plays 10 minutes per game. Against Truman, she moved into the starting lineup, played 40 minutes and made all three of Northwest's three-pointers.
"One of the threes came with 39 seconds to go in the first overtime to tie it," Steinmeyer said. "The other one came with three minutes left in the second overtime to tie it. So they were high-pressured shots and Ashley never hesitated."
Steinmeyer was equally pleased with the defense his team played against Truman. It kept them in the game when the offense was struggling to find its rhythm.
Northwest scored just eight points in the first 14 minutes.
"For once, our defense really stood up and allowed us to stay in the game," Steinmeyer said. "If we played our normal defensive game, we are blown out the first 14 minutes of the game."
Despite all the winning, Northwest is keeping its perspective about each individual game. On paper, Northwest, 11-2 overall and just one game behind conference leaders Emporia State and Washburn, should be the favorite on Saturday.
Baptist is 6-7 overall and 3-6 in the MIAA. Baptist is in a struggle to win enough games to reach the conference tournament in Kansas City.
"It's awesome we are winning and obviously it is nice to win, but we try not to think about the winning streak," Roach said. "We just want to take one game at a time. Anything can happen in the MIAA.
"We just want to be ready and prepared for every game and every circumstance like the flu that hit before the Truman game. We didn't expect that to happen. We just have to prepare for every game like its Washburn or Emporia."
That's exactly the approach Steinmeyer wants from his players. He will handle the looking ahead and all the different scenarios that will unfold over the next few weeks.
"Our season will be defined in the next five to eight games," Steinmeyer. "Within the next 17 days we can go from a major influence on who wins the conference to someone who is in the middle of the pack."
One thing that is certain is these Bearcats have no intention of being a middle-of-the-road team.
They have all the elements to be a championship team and the chemistry to keep all the elements together instead of exploding like a science project gone bad.
"We all get along," Roach said. "We hang out outside of basketball. I think that helps a lot with our winning.
"No one is really selfish. If Gentry is having a good game then we need to feed the ball inside to her. If Shelly or Ashley Thayer comes off the bench and is shooting 5-for-6 from the three-point line, we understand we need to give them the ball. It's just really fun to play with them."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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