Nov. 2, 2013
Women's Basketball opens season SundayBy David Boyce | Women's Basketball at Illinois State | Sunday, Nov. 3 | 1:05 p.m.
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MARYVILLE, Mo. - Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team heads to Normal, Ill., and will face Illinois State with another new look. The Bearcats will operate with their third basketball coach in three seasons and seven new players.
It is a good thing that the game at 1 p.m. Sunday against a team from the Division I Missouri Valley Conference is an exhibition and does not count in the standings.
Do not tell that to first-year coach Michael Smith.
“To me it counts,” Smith said. “After our last scrimmage, I told the players we are preparing for Illinois State and we are preparing as if we are battling for the MIAA Championship. I want to see how we are going to compete.”
In one sense, it is all new for the 2013-14 Bearcats. Although Smith is in his 17th season coaching college basketball and coming off a successful stint at Truman, he has a completely new group of players to teach his man-to-man defense.
The eight returners immersed themselves into zone defense last year under Mark Kellogg. They finished 15-13 overall and 8-10 in the MIAA. Northwest won its first round game in the MIAA Tournament before falling in the quarterfinals.
After the season, Kellogg left for another job, meaning juniors like Ashleigh Nelson and Annie Mathews were going to play for their third head coach.
“The biggest thing for us is to stand up for each other, back each other,” Smith said. “We are still trying to build that trust, the little things we stress every day in practice.
“The main thing is our communication amongst each other. We got seven new players and a new staff. I have stressed communication from day one. We have to get better, not just in basketball, but figuring out strengths and weaknesses. How do I push them? What buttons do I push with certain players? I have 15 new players, not two or three.”
Transitioning to a new coach is rarely completely smooth during preseason and the first few weeks of the season.
It takes time for the players and new coaching staff to understand each other. So far, though, Smith likes what he has seen from the Bearcats.
“I have been extremely pleased with this group in the preseason,” he said. “In all my years, it has been one of the best preseason I’ve had as far as coming into the weight room and conditioning. In our individual workouts, we have thrown so many new things at them. You wonder how they are going to take it because it is a completely different style from what they did last year.
“We have had a lot more positive days than negative days. That is what we try to ask in preseason and practices did we get better as a team. For the most part, we have.”
On Sunday, besides running plays correctly, Smith will look at other things.
“You often wonder the body language they are going to bring, whether they are going to be excited or here we go again,” Smith said. “You are wondering what type of attitude they are going to have.”
Smith wants them to have a hungry attitude.
“They got a taste of the MIAA Tournament last year,” he said. “Hopefully that will excite us to get back and do a little more damage.”
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