March 3, 2011
Tournament-ready Bearcats open with Truman Friday
By David Boyce
Conference-champion Northwest Missouri State begins postseason play at noon Friday against eighth-seeded Truman in the opening game of the MIAA tournament hosted by Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Tuesday morning senior Gabby Curtis checked her facebook page and saw an unbelievable message from senior teammate Gentry Dietz.
Dietz congratulated Curtis on being selected MIAA Player of the Year.
"I didn't know how to react," Curtis said. "Me? Really? There is so much talent on this team. It could have been anybody on our team. Abby (Henry), Gentry or Kyla (Roehrig) could have won it. The players on our bench are talented.
Roehrig, Henry, Dietz and head coach Gene Steinmeyer were all honored by the MIAA. Steinmeyer was Coach of the Year. Roehrig, in her first and only season with the Bearcats, was named Defensive Player of the Year. Henry was a second-team selection and Dietz made third team.
"This is very exciting," Roehrig said. "I didn't expect this. I never dreamt something like this could happen to me this year."
All the accolades came courtesy of a wonderful regular season by Northwest.
After dropping their first two MIAA games, the Bearcats clawed opponents with a dazzling array of offensive talent, which made them nearly unbeatable.
Northwest won 18 of its last 20 conference games and completed the regular season 22-4 overall and 18-4 in the MIAA for first place.
It was the first conference title for the women's basketball team since the 1983-84 season. For historians, those were the Reagan "Morning in America" years when none of these current Bearcats were alive.
But these Bearcats have brought renewed energy and hope in women's basketball in Maryville.
They head into Friday's afternoon game in the MIAA Tournament determined not to rest on their regular-season laurels. Instead, the Bearcats want to play their best basketball so far this season.
And that means taking no one lightly. Northwest, the No. 1 seed, takes on Truman,12-14 and 10-12, noon Friday at historical Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
"We are ready," Dietz said. "Truman is a great team. They played us to double overtime."
True. But that was Jan. 8 at Truman and several key players were battling the flu and one starter didn't even make the trip. The next time the two teams faced each other on Feb. 16 in Maryville, the Bearcats won easily 87-69.
The Bearcats, though, aren't thinking like everything is going to come easy just because they performed so well during the regular season.
On Monday Steinmeyer feared that all the awards his players were going to receive might have an adverse effect on his team for the tournament.
Those worries were eased when Dietz told him none of the players enjoyed the 4-hour bus ride from Joplin, Mo. Saturday evening.
Northwest lost its last regular-season game, falling 70-62 at Missouri Southern.
"Obviously, we want to put the last game behind us and grow from it," Henry said.
"One of the things our team is really good at is forgetting all the compliments we get and focus on our next game."
It really has been a dream season for the Bearcats. Throughout the year Henry has said this is the most fun she's had playing basketball and she played on some good high school teams.
Roehrig is another example of living a basketball season that a year ago she could never have imagined when she wrapped up a stellar volleyball career at the University of Minnesota.
She had a year of eligibility left to play basketball and decided to give it a chance even though she hadn't played since high school.
Now Roehrig gets to play at Municipal Auditorium for the No. 1 team in the MIAA. Municipal has special meaning for Roehrig and her family. When Roehrig was a senior in high school she watched her older sister play first- and second-round games for Michigan State at Municipal in 2005. Michigan State won both games and eventually made it to the NCAA Championship game before falling to Baylor.
"We had more than 30 fans at Municipal," Roehrig said. "It was exciting following my sister."
As wonderful as Roehrig's story is, what Curtis has accomplished this season has been even more inspiring.
"I'm so happy for Gabby," Dietz said. "She worked her tail off and is now living up to her potential. She totally deserves to be MIAA Player of the Year."
Curtis is averaging 18.0 points and 4.5 rebounds. A year ago, Curtis averaged 11.7 points, but shot 35 percent compared to 45 percent this year.
"Last year Gabby was an average player with above average talent," Steinmeyer said. "This year she's an above average player with above average talent."
The best part about the Bearcats this year is the players are enjoying each other's success.
"There are no jealousies on this team. At least I haven't seen it," Steinmeyer said.
Steinmeyer gave a couple of examples of the togetherness. One was the school newspaper wanted to take a picture of just the starters and put it on the front page. The starters declined because they didn't want to be singled out.
The other is Dietz, who was a first-team, all-conference player last year. With the addition of Roehrig at center, Dietz realized she was going to change positions and her stats would probably go down.
"As a junior all Gentry talked about were her stats and this year all she talks about is winning," Steinmeyer said.
Dietz said it was fun learning a new position and a different aspect of basketball.
"We have a special team," Dietz said. "We are not a cocky team. We just try to focus on the next game."
And the next game is the MIAA Tournament. There's no longer a mystery about how good Northwest is. A team that was picked to finish in the middle of the MIAA has come together to rise to the top.
"We won't sneak up on anybody now," Henry said. "Everybody knows all the talent we have. But our mentality is the same as last year when we went to the MIAA Tournament. We want to win our first game and go from there.
"Postseason play is the best part of basketball."
The Bearcats have some more dreams to live on the court.
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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