Dec. 22, 2010
A fall sports season to remember
By David Boyce
Ten minutes after Northwest Missouri State's volleyball team lost 3-0 to Washburn in the South Central regional quarterfinal, coach Jessica Rinehart spoke about how well her team played.
It was the first time the volleyball program made it to regionals.
Rinehart, in her first season at Northwest, didn't dwell on missed opportunities in the highly competitive 3-set match. She emphasized the positive. She gets it.
While Rinehart is new to the Bearcat family, she fits in with the Northwest coaches like a longtime member.
Anybody who has the opportunity to listen to the coaches during their weekly luncheon will easily come away with the feeling that all they want is for their athletes to reach their full potential as student-athletes.
Obviously, they want to be competitive in the MIAA and move on to regional and even national events. But falling short doesn't mean failure.
By any measure, Northwest just completed a highly successful fall semester in sports.
In my eyes, the 2010 Bearcats were every bit as successful and they left an imprint on their family, friends and fans that will last for many years.
Northwest won its fifth straight MIAA title, extended its conference winning streak to 46 games and won some of the most exciting games during the regular season and playoffs in all of Division II.
A couple of moments stand out for me. The first one was at Central Missouri. Northwest trailed 16-14. Sophomore place kicker Todd Adolf kicked a 45-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Bearcats to a one-point victory in front of 14,000 fans, the largest crowd to see a MIAA football game at a MIAA stadium.
Seniors on the team called it the most exciting regular-season game they have been involved in.
As great as the kick was, what stood out for me was seeing the reaction of Adolf's grandfather. He felt so much joy and pride in his grandson that really the only words he could say were tears came from his eyes when he saw the ball go through the uprights.
Individual moments like that are what stand out for me.
The other football game that sticks in my mind is sort of personal. I enjoy my time in the press box, making absurd comments to see the reactions. I have fun because that's what sports are all about.
Anyway, when Northwest trailed 17-0 against its rival Missouri Western in the first round of the playoffs, I saw worry in some of the Northwest students who do a wonderful job compiling the stats for media members.
The Bearcats found themselves in the second half and began a run that saw them reach the semifinals before falling to eventual national champion Minnesota Duluth.
I didn't cover the semifinal game, but was told that players cried afterwards. There is nothing wrong with that. Tears in athletics usually show just how much a player or coach cared about doing well.
By no means was the fall semester only about the football team's success.
Volleyball achieved at a level it has never seen before.
But for me, the best time was the five-set thriller the Bearcats won over Nebraska-Omaha at Red Oak High School in Iowa.
Well over 800 fans showed up to see the return of Rinehart, senior Paige Spangenburg and junior Alex Hanna, all Red Oak alums.
Really, words can't truly capture the warm feelings that were in the gymnasium on that special night.
"It was more than I expected," said Hanna, after the match. "The crowd was awesome. I don't think there was an empty seat in the gym. It was great to see people come out and support Paige and me, especially this far out since we've been in high school."
How many collegiate athletes can experience something like that? It's extremely rare. Spangenburg and Hanna recognized it was a night they wouldn't forget.
Individually, junior Angela Adams on the women's team and junior T.R. Pursell on the men's team showed they put in a lot of work last summer. They went to the next level and became two of the elite runners in the MIAA.
Adams placed second in the MIAA and Pursell took third.
"I think about when we started here that first year and the progress we've made," coach Scott Lorek said of the women's team. "We have several women on the team, and they talk about this, when they came in as freshmen, they really had no idea the team would become this good and get to this point. They have really taken our program to a place that four or five years ago nobody would have expected."
Fall semester is always exciting for coaches because a group of freshmen come in to provide new energy. That was really the case for the women's golf team.
First, the returning players were not happy the way their season ended last spring and spent time in the summer to work on their game. It showed in their results during the fall.
But the Bearcats were also helped by the freshmen who entered the program, especially Cassie Lowell, who played like a seasoned veteran in her first taste of college golf.
Lowell placed first in two fall tournaments, took second in another and third in another.
"As a freshman, making the transition from high school to college I thought would take longer to score as well as she's scoring because of the longer distances that you play in college," Northwest coach Pat McLaughlin said.
The returners accepted her like she had been with the team for two or three years. They were also impressed with her competitive spirit.
One of my favorite quotes from the fall semester came from senior golfer Erin Luchtel, who described Lowell in her first collegiate tournament. Lowell shot an 83 in the first round of the Iowa Western Reiver Fall Classic.
"She was really upset with it," Luchtel said. "I was like I don't understand why you are upset. That's really good. And then I understood the second day why she was so upset. She dropped 10 strokes. I was really impressed with her. Glad she's on the team."
Coming into the fall, the women's soccer team knew they would have a hard time topping the 2009 record-breaking season. The Bearcats lost several key players.
Predictably, Northwest struggled, but the enthusiasm was still high from coach Tracy Hoza and junior defender Jacque Dedovesh.
When the team stood 2-8-3 in late October, Dedovesh still urged her teammates to give a 100 percent.
"Soccer is the one thing we love to do," Dedovesh said to her teammates. "I try to get them motivated every day. This is what we love to do and let's show everybody how good we can be."
And finally, how can any Northwest season be complete without mentioning tennis coach Mark Rosewell.
Rosewell was thrilled that the men's team got to play host to the ITA regional in the fall. It was a chance for the Bearcats to show off their newly refurbished tennis courts.
Junior tennis player Calvin Patterson probably summed it up best by what it means to represent Northwest in athletic competition.
"It gives you a sense of purpose for being here other than the fact of getting a good education. You feel like you are more a part of the school if you are an athlete," he said.
"You have the school name on your body when you are playing and you are trying to represent the school the best you can, especially when you are traveling. You are taking part of the school with you."
Simply put, the Northwest student-athletes and coaches gave me awesome material to share their experiences with fans.
Now we have just a little break to catch our breaths before the start of what will be an exciting start to 2011.
Do you have a favorite memory you would like to share from the fall sports season? Please email your thoughts to email@example.com and we will post them below throughout the holiday break. Please include your name and town in the subject line. Thanks and go Bearcats!
Bryan Boettcher, Maryville, Mo.
Adolf's kick at Central and the joy that followed were special, but for me the top moment of the fall season occurred in Red Oak, Iowa, a town I had not visited until Nov. 3. The electricity in the gym was amazing and the two teams that competed put on a spectacular show. I'll remember the ovation for Paige during the starting lineups, the high school student section's chant of "Just like High School" on Alex's first kill of the match and the Rock Star treatment Coach Rinehart and her players received upon its conclusion. We scored the game from the stands with KCSI Radio to my left and Northwest parents to my right. Paige's parents, Angie and Randy, were one of the first sets I met when I began at Northwest four years ago. Their smiles that night never left their faces.
Russ Bredahl, Skidmore, Mo.
After watching Bearcat volleyball the past 12 seasons, nothing compares with the ‘Cats thrilling 5-set win over Washburn Oct. 19. The Lady Blues had humbled Northwest 3-0 at Topeka to start the MIAA season in September, but things were different in Maryville. The Blues took the court ranked No. 2 among all Division II teams, but the Bearcats went right to work in winning the first set and getting the big pink-out crowd into a noisy frenzy. The Blues fought back and the teams were tied at two sets apiece going into the deciding fifth set. Although the margin separating the two teams in the fifth set was never more than two points, Washburn was the first to serve for match point, leading 14-12. The Bearcats survived that match point and five more before finally getting successive kills from Amber Ryan, Sara Falcone and Amber Guthrie to end the struggle at 22-20 and begin the happiest victory celebration I've ever seen. What a thrill for the players, coaches, parents, students and volleyball addicts like me!
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