Nov. 12, 2010
Men open Sunday, women Monday at home
By David Boyce
The quest to return the Bearcats near the top of the MIAA in men's basketball has nearly arrived for senior forward Elijah Allen.
Falling just short of reaching the MIAA Tournament last year is one of the things that motivates him and his teammates.
It played a part in Allen staying in Maryville over the summer. It is why, he said, the team has been focused in practice. They are ready to show they are better than their ninth-place finish from a year ago and the preseason predictions of ninth again this year.
Northwest Missouri State begins the 2010-11 season at 3 p.m. Sunday at home against Southwest Minnesota State with something to prove.
"I'm really excited," Allen said. "We have a good team coming back. We just have to stay consistent. Mentally, on the court, we have to make good decisions."
A year ago the Bearcats finished 12-17 overall and 7-13 in the MIAA. It left them just short of reaching the eight-team conference tournament.
"I hope it is driving them a lot," coach Ben McCollum said. "It is driving me. It's the second year in a row we were picked ninth. I love that and our guys do as well. But you got to do something about it. You got to go out and compete, make the tournament and prove to everybody that you are not the ninth-best team in the league."
The frustrating part was Northwest proved it could beat some of the elite teams in the conference with wins against Fort Hays State and Nebraska-Omaha that came at the end of January and the start of February.
But the Bearcats struggled the rest of February and lost five of their last six games.
"We don't want to beat ourselves," McCollum said. "Last year we got in the habit of beating ourselves, turning it over, gambling on defense, not guarding the ball and just not doing the disciplined things. We want to be as disciplined as possible as early as possible so we can branch out from there so we can do more things later."
Northwest, though, was able to develop a point guard in DeShaun Cooper, who was selected MIAA freshman of the year.
He said winning the award meant a lot. More importantly, the experience was invaluable.
"I learned that the game is much faster at this level," he said. "That doesn't mean that you have to rush your play. You have to stay calm and poised."
McCollum, Allen and Cooper all said that practices have gone well.
"I look forward to the first practice more than the first game. I love practice," McCollum said.
"The first game you definitely get the jitters. You are excited to see how your team is going to compete and perform and basically you get to see the results of all the hard work you put in."
A day later, women's basketball coach Gene Steinmeyer will get an idea of how his team will perform in the first couple of months of the season.
The women's team opens its season at home 7 p.m. Monday against Nebraska-Kearney.
Steinmeyer said he's apprehensive about the start of the season.
"Don't get me wrong, there is still the excitement of the opening game," he said.
"What causes me apprehension is coming into the season I thought size would be one of our strengths. We would be a lot better at the 4 and 5 positions and we would have depth there. That has really taken a turn on us.
"At least before Christmas we will have to be a guard-oriented team. Our guards will really have to carry us early."
The first few weeks of practice Steinmeyer worked the offense to get the ball down in the post. He recently realized that strategy may have to be put on hold.
"Even though we are going to be a guard-oriented team, we haven't been playing like a guard-oriented team," Steinmeyer said. "We haven't been playing with the pressure and the speed that a guard-oriented team needs to play with. That's what I want to see. When I do put four guards on the floor, I want to see the speed that they can bring and the pressure they can place on opponents."
The Bearcats have a guard in junior Abby Henry who can definitely carry the offensive load. She proved that last season when she led the team in scoring with a 17.1 average.
"I love our guards," Steinmeyer said. "Abby Henry is one of the best players I've ever coached. Her motor runs faster than anybody I have coached. She is active all the time."
Like the men, the women's team wants to improve on last season. Northwest finished 14-15 overall and 9-11 in the MIAA. The Bearcats made the conference tournament and beat Pittsburg State 75-71 in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual conference tournament champions Washburn in the semifinals.
Henry scored 25 points in each conference tournament game, proving she could handle the big stage and giving Steinmeyer a reason not to be so apprehensive.
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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