Jan. 26, 2011
First-place showdown tonight at Bearcat Arena
By David Boyce
#9 Washburn at #23 Northwest
5:30 p.m. tonight at Bearcat Arena
Synopsis: Teams with identical records (14-2, 10-2 MIAA) square off in a battle for sole possession of first place in the MIAA standings
Earlier Meeting: Washburn won 82-79 in Topeka back on Dec. 4 ... Lady Blue guard Stevi Schultz made four 3-pointers and had 18 points
Matchup to watch for: Two of the league's top post players dual in Northwest's Kyla Roehrig (14 pts, 9 reb, 2 blks in first meeting) and Washburn's Cassie Lombardino (15 pts, 7 reb, 3 blks). Lombardino (18.3 ppg) is the league's top scorer
After a hard workout in the first few weeks of basketball practice it is very enticing to head home alone and just go to sleep.
Sometimes the last person you want to see is a teammate you battled with and against for 2-plus hours.
The players on Northwest Missouri State women's basketball team made a concerted effort to participate in other activities after practice.
With nearly every player returning from a team that finished 14-15, they sensed a bright future, especially if their bond grew tighter.
Last year's experience and the addition of 6-foot-4 senior center Kyla Roehrig are a couple of reasons why the Bearcats are 14-2 overall, 10-2 and tied with Washburn for first place in the MIAA.
Togetherness plays just as big a factor in explaining the Bearcats' current 10-game winning streak that has propelled them to their first national ranking at No. 23 since March of 2004.
"We have the same team last year except for adding Kyla and freshman Meridee Scott," junior guard Abby Henry said. "But something feels different about it. During preseason we did a lot of things together because we wanted to get closer. We knew this team could be special. We hang out on and off the court. We are friends on the court. We are friends off the court. I think that really helps us."
The formula has the Bearcats playing their biggest regular-season game in years. At 5:30 p.m. tonight, Northwest takes on Washburn at Bearcat Arena for sole possession of first place.
"I'm pretty excited about it," Henry said. "It's a situation this team has not been in during the three years I've been here.
"We have to make sure we don't get too hyped up because it always leads to bad things. We have to treat it as a regular game even though we are playing for a little more."
Northwest is rapidly gaining experience at playing these types of high-impact games.
On Saturday they were facing Emporia State, the defending NCAA Division II champions. The two teams were tied for second place and the Hornets already owned a victory over Northwest.
Fueled by a home crowd, the Bearcats took a big lead and won in impressive fashion, claiming a stunning 86-67 victory.
"After we got the big lead it was wow," senior guard Gabby Curtis said. "I don't think we've ever had a big lead like that on them. We were hyped up for the game. We were really focused to beat them."
That win makes the hype for Wednesday's game against Washburn even bigger.
"We are all focused and excited about this game," Curtis said. "We are playing hard and taking it one game at a time and right now we are focusing on Washburn."
Coach Gene Steinmeyer can tell this game is important just by the number of calls he received Monday and Tuesday inquiring about free tickets. (Folks, it's a tough economy).
Sometimes when a basketball coach has a good team that can win a conference championship and make noise in the postseason, the coach feels the pressure and behaves differently, more uptight.
Steinmeyer is enjoying the ride.
"I feel less pressure now than I have in the years that I worried about getting into the MIAA Tournament. That was the most pressure," he said. Every year I always call it a race to eight because eight wins will get you in the MIAA Tournament.
"We lost our first two games so I was a little worried then, but after we got our record evened up and Gentry Dietz back, I really haven't worried about making the MIAA. I've been more focused on getting in the upper half of the MIAA."
Well, the Bearcats can get to the very top of the MIAA all by themselves if they can beat Washburn on Wednesday.
To their credit, they are not getting caught up in their current status.
"Coach has been telling us all year that there is a lot of season left," Henry said. "We could go out and lose our last eight games. You never know what can happen in this league."
It's doubtful the Bearcats would suffer a collapse of epic proportion. They simply have too much talent, and more importantly, they play as a team.
"This is the most fun I've had playing basketball ever," Henry said. "I've been on a lot of good teams. My high school team was great. My AAU team was good. But I feel like there is something special with this team. We have five players who can put up such big numbers and not only put up big numbers, but are also unselfish.
"Nobody cares if Gabby scores 30 points or if it is Kyla. We are just having fun with each other."
- Wednesday is T-Shirt night at Bearcat Arena. Bring a T-Shirt from another university and you will receive a free Bearcat T-Shirt. The collected T-Shirts will be donated to Goodwill.
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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