Oct. 18, 2012
Kellogg has Bearcats excited for new season
By David Boyce
Energy and enthusiasm greeted Northwest Missouri State first-year women’s basketball coach Mark Kellogg on Monday.
Thousands of NCAA Division II basketball players gave their coaches the same effort. It is the nature of the first practice of a new season. Hope abounds.
“But when you are done, what just happened,” Kellogg said. “It is one practice. Where do we go from here? You end up with more questions than answers.
“They were excited to be here. We were excited as a coaching staff to have that first practice. You move forward. We learned a little about our team. Now we got to go to work.”
One thing Kellogg has a complete grasp of is the work that is needed to be championship caliber team.
Still in his mid-30s, Kellogg has already enjoyed a great deal of success. He spent the previous seven years at Fort Lewis (Colo.) in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
During that time, Fort Lewis compiled a 173-46 record, reached the NCAA Division II tournament the last five years and finished national runner-up in the 2009-10 season.
“It was obviously a difficult decision with the success we had at Fort Lewis,” Kellogg said of leaving. “We won 26 or more games for five straight years. We had it completely rolling. It was time for a change.”
A passion for athletics at Northwest coupled with athletic director Wren Baker influenced Kellogg to head east.
“It is a place you can succeed athletically and academically,” Kellogg said. “One of our goals is to be a top 25 in both of those categories.
“Everything is in place here, from the funding, the fans, scholarships, the budget and a recruiting base. I think it is in a great location from Kansas City to Des Moines to Omaha.
“And the travel will be less. I have two little kids. I am married. I was gone a lot when you are driving through mountain passes in the winter. Travel will be a lot easier.”
Kellogg no longer has to worry about piling his players on a bus with chains and driving through snowy mountain passes and spending 6 to 12 hours on the road for a conference game.
“Denver was 6 hours away and four of our conference schools are in Denver,” Kellogg said.
Ultimately, the true enjoyment a coach gets comes from the players and their ability to buy into a system and collectively learn how to win as a group.
It is much more of a challenge for a first-year coach. The first thing Kellogg had to do was recruit the players already in Bearcat green. Gene Steinmeyer, who retired last spring, brought them to Northwest.
Kellogg spent the spring and summer getting to know his new players and for them to get accustomed to him and his brand of basketball.
“It presents unique and different challenges,” Kellogg said. “I did it seven years ago so it is not the first time, but it feels like it has been a while.
“You kind of forget how much you have to teach and coach, but really teach. That goes to how you want them to stretch and count while they stretch.”
Ten players return from last year and Kellogg added five new players.
Obviously, Kellogg is looking to return the Bearcats to the success they enjoyed in the 2010-11 season when they made a run to the NCAA Division II Final Four.
Last year was a rebuilding season as Northwest slipped to 6-22, but players like Ashleigh Nelson, Maggie Marnin and Annie Mathews saw valuable minutes as freshmen.
“Our sophomore class has some good players,” Kellogg said. “We are going to rely on the sophomore class quite a bit. We’ve challenged them to be leaders more than you normally would from a sophomore class.
“They learned a ton from last year. They know what it takes to compete at this level and in this league. That’s what we can draw the most from them.”
After the first day of practice, Kellogg understands the real work has just begun. There is so much to do before they play at Iowa State in an exhibition game on Nov. 1.
“The focus right now is lay the foundation, lay down the blueprint and the culture of what we will be about and the basketball stuff will come along as we move forward,” Kellogg said.
“We just want to get better every day. When everybody is new and it is a whole new system, it takes a whole other level of communication. Our communication has to be unbelievable down from the coaches to the players and the players to each other. We are learning how to play at a different tempo and speed, but not forgetting fundamentals. That is our challenge right now.”
It is a challenge that Kellogg relishes. He believes the MIAA is the best conference in Division II.
“You want to be challenged,” he said. “I want to compete against the absolute best at the Division II level. We are going against some great institutions, some great coaches.
“We are going to see if our system works in a different league. We will see what it will take.”
Based on Kellogg’s career record, the players and the Bearcat fans are about to embark on an exciting journey.
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