March 21, 2011
Bearcat bench provides spark to championship season
By David Boyce
Midway through the first half of their first game in the MIAA Tournament, Northwest Missouri State junior forward Tara Roach remained on the bench.
Roach is usually one of the first players Coach Gene Steinmeyer sends into the game.
"She's the energy pump we need," he says of the Bearcat spark plug.
But Steinmeyer had a hunch. He went to junior forward Alexis Boeh instead. Boeh responded with a couple of important mid-range jumpers at a time when Northwest needed some points.
Meanwhile, Roach was on the bench. Her demeanor was the same as always. She smiled, laughed, applauded teammates and was usually the first one up to offer encouragement when a timeout was called.
When the game ended Northwest had another victory, beating Truman 69-62. Boeh and Roach combined for only six points. But their subtle contributions off the bench is an important ingredient why the Bearcats are one of only eight teams left playing NCAA Division II women's basketball.
Northwest, 28-4, returns to action at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in its Elite Eight game against Cal Poly Pomona, 28-4, at the St. Joseph Civic Arena.
The Bearcat starters have earned many postseason awards, but they know they wouldn't be in position to play for a national championship without the contributions from the bench.
"They have been huge," junior guard Abby Henry said. "There have been so many games when players off the bench have stepped in and hit some really big shots. Ashley Thayer has come in and hit some big 3-pointers at different points in the year.
"We wouldn't be in this position without Alexis coming in and playing a really big role when Kyla (Roehrig) or Gentry (Dietz) is out. Monai Douglass has come in and had some really big stops.
"Tara has been great all year. She provides us with a lot of energy. That's something we really need. Without our bench players we definitely wouldn't be in this position."
Roach is a prime example of sacrificing for the betterment of the team. She started six games this season and played well. She has scoring ability and plays gritty defense.
But Roach realized her time in the starting lineup was temporary. When Dietz became eligible at the start of the second semester Roach was going to be a back-up.
"She did it without question," Steinmeyer said. "She never pouted about it.
"She's kind of a role model for kids."
All it takes is one disgruntled player with an important role on the team to ruin the chemistry and derail a magical season.
In contrast, one selfless act by a key player can enhance team unity.
Roach realized it was important for her to maintain a positive attitude.
"I know basketball is a team sport," Roach said. "I realized that Gentry is better than me. She's a better starter than I am. She can score 20 points a game.
"I evaluated myself. I'm an energy player. If the team is down, I can bring the team back up. I can do little things. I can go in there and push some people around, which I do anyway. I go in and have fun.
"I remembered we are here to win a championship."
Her positive attitude was definitely noticed by the starters.
"It shows a lot about her personality," Henry said. "A lot of people, if they lost their starting position, would just give up. She kept working hard in all our practices and all the games. It says a lot about her personally to be able to fight through that, accept her role and just keep doing a good job."
For the back-up players to play to the best of their ability they need the starters to believe in them. Northwest's starting five definitely do.
If Thayer comes in and is draining three-pointers, she will definitely get the ball. The same goes for Boeh, Roach or any of the other players off the bench.
"It's awesome," Roach said. "It shows how tight our team is."
The contribution from the bench also adds another dimension.
"When scouts come to look, they have to look deeper into our team than just the starting five," Roach said. "They have to look at Alexis Boeh who can come in and score. They have to look at Ashley Thayer who can come in and score and so on.
"They not only have to look at the starting five, they have to look at everybody, because everyone is capable of doing everything."
Simply put, the Bearcats believe in each other.
"Trust is a huge factor in winning games," Roach said. "When you trust your teammates it is more fun when you win more games and hopefully a championship."
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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