Feb. 18, 2011
Bearcat seniors look to finish season strong
By David Boyce
The primary thought for seniors Gabby Curtis, Gentry Dietz and Kyla Roehrig when they step on the court at the Multipurpose Building Saturday afternoon will be beating Central Missouri.
They are bright individuals who understand a win keeps the Bearcats in first place in the MIAA.
Any distractions could prove harmful against the Jennies, who are fighting just to make the eight-team conference tournament.
The three seniors can't dwell on the fact that their college basketball careers are rapidly drawing to an end with just three regular-season games left.
And they certainly can't entertain thoughts about possibly playing host to the South Central Regional. At 20-3 overall and 16-3 in the MIAA, the Bearcats are currently ranked third in the region behind Northeastern State and Tarleton State and one spot ahead of Washburn.
"I've looked at it and thought about it," Dietz said. "But first I want to win a conference championship. People have been talking about it at the beginning of the season and the middle and now that we have a few games left, it is in our hands. We have a one-game lead on Washburn and if we win-out it is ours.
"If we do win-out and have the region here, with all the great fan support we would have, that would be a huge thing. And if we made it to St. Joseph for the Elite Eight, the possibilities are endless."
Since there are so many wonderful possibilities left for the Bearcats, the seniors realize that when they play their last home game on Feb. 23 against Southwest Baptist and their final regular-season game on Feb. 26 at Missouri Southern, plenty of basketball still remains.
Still, the conclusion of the regular season plays on their mind. One of the final chapters in their nearly lifelong basketball story is about to be completed.
It leaves an ambivalent feeling.
"I think about it and then I don't think about it, because why think about it," Curtis said. "I worry myself a lot about how this is my last year. I only have three more games left. I think we have to win this whole thing because this is my last year and I really want to win.
"I think about when we first started the season and that the season was going slow, but now we are down to three. Wow, this season went by fast. I'm taking it one game at a time. I'm still playing hard, still practicing hard."
Because of all the success, giving full effort in practice is something coach Gene Steinmeyer hasn't had to worry about from his seniors in February.
"Sometimes you notice good things and sometimes you notice bad things," Steinmeyer said. "The end result is almost always positive. Your seniors will usually give their best effort."
But Steinmeyer recalls 2008 when he had a team dominated by seniors who all but tossed in the towel the last few weeks of the regular season.
The team was expected to compete for a MIAA title but hit some midseason struggles. In mid-February they lost by 44 points at Central Missouri. In their last home game they lost to Missouri Western, a team they had beaten earlier in St. Joseph.
"And we got beat by 10 at Hays and their coach gets fired after the game," Steinmeyer said.
Steinmeyer didn't think the 2007-08 season would extend beyond the first round of the MIAA Tournament. The Bearcats finished 9-9 in the MIAA and went into the conference tournament with a 14-13 record.
So instead of grueling practices leading up to the conference tournament, Steinmeyer put his team through light, one-hour workouts and spent the rest of the time recruiting.
But something happened to that senior class in the second half of their first-round game of the MIAA Tournament.
"There was nine minutes to go in the Southern game and we are down nine points," Steinmeyer said. "I think one of the Southern kids threw an elbow at one of our kids and it just woke them up. From that point, until Meghan Brue went down with an injury in the semifinals of the South Central Regional, we were unbeatable.
"We beat Southern, a good Washburn team in the MIAA semifinals by three and beat Baptist by 24 and hit a half-court shot in overtime to beat West Texas."
It was an incredible run for the Bearcats, particularly knocking off the South Central Region No. 1 seed West Texas at their home court in dramatic fashion.
But it wasn't until early March before the seniors on that 2008 team finally played up to their potential.
"This group of seniors' attitude isn't even comparable to 2008," Steinmeyer said. "Our seniors want to be in the gym and get to the next game. They are sick and tired of me not telling them to look ahead. I'll be glad when we get to the point where we are ahead and I have to quit reminding them of coaching clichés of one game at a time."
The Bearcats are so focused that they are taking it one game at a time. Curtis admitted she hasn't entertained the thought of Northwest being the host team in the regional.
"But it is pretty exciting," she said. "If we do win I hope we have it here. That would be more exciting."
From the start, the Bearcats knew they had the talent. If they put it all together, good things were going to happen.
They are playing some of their best basketball of the season on their current five-game winning streak. Four of the wins have been by double digits and the other one was by nine points at rival Missouri Western.
"We have a lot talent from the starters and from the players off the bench," Curtis said. "The players off the bench are capable of scoring and playing good defense. If we are all on the same page we can be unstoppable.
"But there is still room for improvement and going to the next level. Right now we are playing the best basketball we can."
No matter how the final chapter turns out in the 2010-11 Northwest basketball season, it has been a story worth remembering.
"We all had high expectations this year, but I don't think anyone thought that we could be this good," Dietz said. I will remember how special it is to go 17-3 in one of the best conferences in the country and potentially making it to the NCAA Tournament.
"It's every women's basketball players' dream to make it to the NCAA Tournament and win a conference championship. We have that opportunity.
"Everyone wants to be on a good team. Last year, being a first-team all-conference player was a great honor but I would have rather been on a team like this year when I'm more of a role player and going out on top. I've never been on a team this good. It is exciting to look at all the possibilities and how the people at Northwest are getting excited about women's basketball."
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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