May 22, 2013
Bearcat Athletics Recap - Spring Edition
By David Boyce
The hiring of coach Mel Tjeerdsma as the new athletic director appears to be the most significant news during the 2013 spring semester at Northwest Missouri State.
Tjeerdsma, who led the Bearcats football program to unprecedented success from 1994 to 2010, returned in April after Wren Baker stepped down to accept a job at the University of Memphis.
The announcement of his return filled Bearcat Nation with excitement.
The special quality about Tjeerdsma is he would never view his return to Northwest as the most important event during the spring semester.
For Tjeerdsma, it is always about the student-athletes at Northwest and the lessons they learn in the classroom and on the field of competition that helps prepare them for life outside of college.
The opportunity to play a role in that development is what brought Tjeerdsma out of retirement and back on a university campus.
“Hopefully, through all this, I will have an opportunity to help some people whether it’s student-athletes, coaches or our fans,” Tjeerdsma said in April. “You hope you can impact them in some way.”
In terms of development, growth and overcoming adversity, the men’s basketball team made the biggest impression during the spring semester.
Before the season started, the Bearcats figured they wouldn’t have the service of senior point guard DeShaun Cooper because of an injury. A year ago, Cooper helped the Bearcats earn a share of the MIAA title and reach the NCAA Division II regional.
His loss, coupled with the departure of three graduating seniors, could have spelled doom for Northwest.
Instead, Northwest, despite an in-season injury to Dillon Starzl, still went 21-10 and nearly returned to the NCAA Division II regional.
The Bearcats’ performance in the MIAA Tournament was nothing short of miraculous. In their victory over Northeastern State in the MIAA quarterfinals, the Bearcats lost freshman Conner Crooker to an eye injury. Crooker was a valuable sixth man down the stretch, playing as well as anyone on the team.
But another setback didn’t stop Northwest from beating No. 1 seed Fort Hays State 73-66 in the semifinals. However, late in that game, the Bearcats lost their top scorer, DeAngelo Hailey, to an ankle injury. He was unable to play in the championship game.
Again, Northwest didn’t use it as an excuse. The Bearcats battled Central Missouri for 40 minutes and then some before falling 79-76 in overtime. They were just a play of two from winning the tournament title and advancing to regionals.
Their run was a reflection of their character and the teamwork necessary to overcome that kind of adversity.
“I have never been around a group that was so mentally tough, from the seniors to the freshman,” Northwest coach Ben McCollum said. “They all came ready to work hard, every day. They never stopped fighting.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with me. We just have great kids. There is not another team in the country that can do what they did as far as coming back from all the injuries.”
The women’s basketball team, which finished 15-13, was just as impressive. They didn’t have injuries to overcome. But they had a new coach, were coming off a 6-22 season in 2011-12 and were picked to finish 14th out of 15 teams in the MIAA.
Despite learning a new system under first-year coach Mark Kellogg, the Bearcats found success and not only made the MIAA Tournament, but went on the road to win their first-round game 77-72 at Missouri Southern. Two months earlier, Northwest lost 64-55 at Southern.
The victory earned the Bearcats a trip to Kansas City for a MIAA quarterfinal game against top seed Washburn. Northwest even held a 10-5 lead early on before falling.
“It was a huge step in the right direction, playing here in this gym, sitting here in the press conference, some of them have never done this before,” Kellogg said after the game. “Every experience helps us. We had a goal to get here.
“We want to take the next step and hope to be back. Next year we want to come with the expectations to win one of these games. We have to remember this feeling of how bad it hurts and how bad we want to work so it doesn’t happen again.”
Kellogg, though, won’t be with the Bearcats. He left April 28 and accepted the women’s basketball job at West Texas A&M.
The move could have been devastating for players like Ashleigh Nelson, Annie Mathews and Maggie Marnin, who are entering their junior season with their third new coach.
Those fears were quickly alleviated by Tjeerdsma. He wasted little time hiring a successful coach who has ties to Northwest.
The hiring of Michael Smith should bring stability to Northwest women’s basketball. Smith spent five years at Truman State, building that program up to make the MIAA Tournament the last three seasons. Truman went 20-6 last season.
Because Smith came in so late, he won’t be able to work with the players until the 2013 fall semester. But he is going to take the time this summer to get to know his players.
He is inheriting a group that has a great attitude.
“We have a really positive outlook for next year,” Marnin said after the MIAA Tournament. “We made huge strides. With the returning people back, we are excited to get next season started already.”
Smith is also excited to work with this group.
Perhaps the best day for Northwest athletics during the spring semester was April 20. The baseball team won a doubleheader at home against Lincoln, the softball team won a doubleheader at home against Washburn. The school unveiled a sleek new logo in front of nearly 1,000 Northwest supporters and the football team played its annual spring football game in late fall weather conditions.
“It is more than changing a symbol that we wear on our jersey or changing something for the sake of change,” said senior track and field student-athlete Adrienne Cornelius about the new logo.
“It is about continuous improvement. It is about striving to be the best we can be in the future. That is what being a Bearcat is all about whether it is on the track, on the field or in the classroom. We are taught to strive for improvement.
“Our new logo is building on that tradition of excellence.”
Although the baseball team fell short of reaching the MIAA Tournament, the Bearcats showed a fighting spirit and fought for a tournament spot until the final pitch of the season.
The Bearcats won 11 of their final 15 games, showing what they can do when the weather warmed up. Northwest finished 22-27 after beginning the season 2-12.
The Northwest softball team showed its competitive fire at the end of the regular season. The Bearcats needed to sweep a doubleheader from Lincoln in its final two regular-season games. Northwest easily won the first game 13-2 and then gritted out a 6-5 victory in the second game.
It was a streaky season for softball. The Bearcats got off to their best start in school history, winning their first seven games. In early April, they lost four straight, but quickly bounced back with a six-game winning streak.
Senior pitcher Jenna Creger concluded her stellar career at Northwest with a 2.17 ERA this season. She struck out 147 batters in a 154.2 innings. Creger leaves as the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts with 554.
The men’s tennis team definitely built on its success by claiming its fourth MIAA title and reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
“I’ve been coaching for 33 years,” tennis coach Mark Rosewell said. “Hard working and personality wise, this may be the best team I have ever had. I don’t want the season to end. It has been so much fun and that is with the women’s team, too.”
In women’s golf, the Bearcats finished third in the snow-shortened MIAA Tournament and saw its first golfer in school history qualify for the Division II regional.
Finally, in track, the Bearcats have two women and two men athletes heading to the 2013 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Each individual will be making their first trip to the outdoor national meet being held May 23-25 in Pueblo, Co.
Yes, it was an eventful 2013 spring semesters and a fun ride.
Bearcat fans rest up and relax this summer so you will have plenty of energy to cheer on Northwest student-athletes this fall. Many of them will spend the summer in Maryville, going to summer school and working out to prepare them mentally and physically to be the best.
It is the only way, the Bearcat way.
For more information, please contact:
Media Relations Department, Northwest Athletics
firstname.lastname@example.org | 660.562.1118 | Fax: 660.562.1582
Lamkin Activity Center | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468