March 14, 2012
Hard work returns ‘Cats to top of MIAA
By David Boyce
Midway through the 2010-11 basketball season, Ben McCollum’s learning curve as Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball coach grew in a positive direction. It came in a loss.
McCollum, the 2012 MIAA Coach of the Year, was only in his second season as head coach on Jan. 8, 2011. The Bearcats went into a game at Truman State feeling fairly good. They were prepared and jumped to a five or six point lead.
McCollum felt it should have been more.
“I started getting more frustrated,” McCollum said. “I noticed my guys were getting frustrated and then I realized how much of an impact that has on the team. It was in that game that really helped me turn the corner of being a better head coach.
“If you show frustration, your guys are going to act the same way. I learned how to be patient and positive and it generally works.”
There was absolutely nothing frustrating about the 2011-12 Bearcats. Mirroring their coach, the Bearcats played with a calm purpose. They believed in themselves and were focused on winning together.
It culminated with the best season for Northwest since the 2007-08 season. Northwest season ended Saturday with a loss to Washburn in the NCAA Division II South Central Regional.
Sure, it would have been nice if the Bearcats could have tasted a win or two in the Division II national tournament.
But there is no way to argue the success of this breakthrough season for Northwest. The Bearcats finished 22-7, earned a share of the MIAA regular-season title and advanced to the semifinals of the MIAA Tournament.
It was a tremendous accomplishment for a group that missed the previous three MIAA Tournaments and finished each of those seasons with a sub .500 record.
McCollum commends seniors Jake Reinders, Kyle Haake and Jake Petersen for sticking with the program through the tough seasons.
“We went through a lot with those three,” McCollum said. “It shows their character that they continued to buy in and continue to have may back in those situations.”
From the start, you could tell this was going to be a special season for the Bearcats. They opened the season on the road at NCAA Division I UMKC and came away with a 66-62 victory.
Northwest won its first nine games, including three conference contests. The Bearcats stayed consistent throughout the season, not losing two in a row until Feb. 21.
Northwest quickly bounced back from its mini slump and won its regular-season finale at home against Missouri Southern to clinch a share of first place in conference. It was the perfect way for the senior class to go out at Bearcat Arena.
“It was a resilient bunch,” McCollum said. “They are special because they paved the way for future teams and created that foundation. That is what makes them special.
“You don’t really see it until they actually go through it. It is when adversity hits. Everybody is real positive and everybody got your back when everything is going right. It is when things aren’t going well that you see somebody’s true character and truly see how loyal they are to you.”
Northwest won its first game in the MIAA Tournament and then lost a heartbreaker to Pittsburg State in the semifinals.
With 12 players returning, the future looks bright for Northwest.
“It was very exciting. It will help in the future,” McCollum said of the postseason tournament experience. “They will have experienced it and know what it takes to get there and now hopefully understand what it takes to win.”
McCollum has learned that it is wise to work hard for a goal but not to expect to automatically get there at a set date.
“We stayed positive and believed what we were doing would work,” McCollum said. “I read a book that being an optimist can actually get you in trouble. If you have a specific date when you want to accomplish something, it can set you up for heartbreak. If you believe that eventually, if you do the right thing, you will be good. That was our mentality.”
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