Jan. 21, 2011
Bearcats, Dietz host defending champs Saturday
By David Boyce
A smile burst on the face of senior Gentry Dietz when Northwest Missouri State women's basketball coach Gene Steinmeyer made his initial comment Tuesday at the weekly athletic media luncheon.
Steinmeyer brought Dietz, senior Gabby Curtis and junior Abby Henry to the luncheon. He started by saying these three players combined for 47 points in the Bearcats 75-64 victory over Missouri Southern on Monday.
"But I remembered Dietz only scored two points," Steinmeyer said.
It was a humorous moment because everybody in that room at the Student Union knows just how important Dietz is to the Bearcats success.
Northwest, 13-2, heads into Saturday's most important MIAA game against Emporia State on a nine-game winning streak. The two teams are tied for second in conference with a 9-2 record.
Dietz joined the Bearcats seven games ago because she couldn't play during the fall since she had just one semester of eligibility left.
At 6-foot-1, a Division I background and becoming the first Bearcat since the 2004 season to earn first-team all-conference, Dietz was going to add another dimension to an already talented team.
"I don't care if I score 23 points or two points as long as we win," said Dietz, who is averaging 12.4 points this season after pumping in 14.7 points per game a year ago.
Dietz is enjoying every second of her final collegiate season. Every time she steps on the court it's a bonus.
During the 2006-07 season at Southern Illinois, Dietz, a native of Omaha, Neb., suffered a season-ending injury.
While she enjoyed playing at the Division I level and traveling to Canada for some games, some of her experiences at Southern Illinois were less than happy. Dietz decided her college basketball career was over.
She took a semester off to gather herself before returning to school. That's when Northwest graduate assistant coach Katie O'Grady tracked her down.
"She said hey, ‘come down and visit,'/" Dietz said. "I saw Stein and he said I could come here for a semester and see if I liked it. I came and haven't left since.
"I was ready to be done. I'm glad they found me and gave me a chance."
Still, the road to becoming an all-conference player had a few potholes that kept Dietz from immediately making an impact.
Dietz couldn't play during the 2007-08 season. It's tough for an incoming freshman to redshirt. It's even harder for somebody who has already played a couple of seasons in college.
"The first semester I was worried because she had to look a year ahead," Steinmeyer said. "I figured if she could make it through the first semester it would be fine in the spring."
Steinmeyer was excited what Dietz was showing in preseason practice in early October of 2008. He knew he landed a special player.
In the last 10 minutes of the final preseason practice before the first game of the season, Dietz suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Once again Steinmeyer was concerned. Perhaps, it just wasn't meant for Dietz to play college basketball again.
Instead, she stuck with it. Of course, at the start of last season she wasn't in the same form as she was before the injury.
"But she's tough," Steinmeyer said. "She was limping through those practices. I knew she was discouraged because she couldn't do the things she did before. But by the end of the year she was awfully good."
The Bearcats also showed signs they were going to be a formidable team for the 2010-11. They finished last year 14-15 but returned all their key players.
Dietz, though, had one more disappointment. She learned the NCAA only granted her one more semester of eligibility.
"I was pretty upset for a while," she said. "I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting that extra semester and when I didn't it was hard.
"At the beginning of the year the practices are the hardest and just standing there and watching them go through it was difficult. When you are with your team you have people to cheer you on and keep you going. It seemed like a year in waiting.
"I had to do separate workouts on my own. It's hard to stay motivated when you are by yourself."
Steinmeyer's perspective was a little different.
"I can't believe how hard she worked in the fall semester," Steinmeyer said. "She was a part-time student, she didn't receive any aid. She couldn't practice. All she could do is play pick-up when the coaches weren't around. She's stronger and faster than she's ever been."
It translates into being a force on the boards. In the Missouri Southern game in which Dietz scored just two points, she pulled down 11 rebounds, four of which were offensive rebounds.
Dietz is averaging 8.4 rebounds a game. The combination of her and 6-foot-4 senior Kyla Roehrig gives the Bearcats the most potent inside game in the MIAA. Roehrig is averaging 14.1 points and 11.1 rebounds.
"I used to hate playing against Kyla and now she is on my team," Dietz said.
Dietz also used to play against Henry and junior Shelly Martin during their high school days in Nebraska.
"I have all these players I didn't like playing against in high school and now they are on my side," Dietz said.
It's one of the reasons the addition of Dietz in mid-December went so smoothly for the Bearcats. They know each other's game very well.
"She makes such a big difference just being in the game," Henry said. "Like Monday night - yeah, she only scored two points, but just her presence opened so much stuff for everybody else. She opened up things for Kyla and for the outside shooters.
"Lately, she's really been focusing on defense and rebounding. I see her going in early for practice to work on her defense."
Northwest is going through a stretch that on any given night any of the five starters are capable of scoring 20 points.
A year ago the Bearcats relied mostly on Henry and Dietz for the scoring.
"Abby and I were talking about that Monday night," Dietz said. "Last year Gabby could score but this year she is consistent. She can drop 20 almost any night. Last year Abby and I felt like there was pressure on us to score. Sometimes Abby and I would take 20 shots a game. If they weren't falling, that was a big struggle.
"Last year we lost a lot of close games and we were giving good effort, but we just couldn't get over that hump. This year we've been doing well. We have let-down moments, but we've been able to win those close games because of our team chemistry, knowing each other and the experience from last year."
Given the road Dietz has traveled to get to this point, it is easy to see why she has plenty of reasons to smile.
She's looking forward to Saturday's game against Emporia State.
"I missed the last time we played them," she said. "I always enjoy playing Emporia and Washburn. I enjoy playing against Alli Volkens. I consider her one of the best post players in the conference. I like that challenge of playing against good competition."
Saturday's game starts at 1:30 p.m. inside Bearcat Arena.
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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