Nov. 8, 2013
Women's Basketball begins season Saturday at QuincyBy David Boyce | Northwest at Quincy University | Saturday, Nov. 9 | 6 p.m. | Quincy, Ill.
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MARYVILLE, Mo. - When Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball coach Michael Smith hollers out a play and tells DJ to run, it would be fruitless to search the roster.
Sure, there are six new players on the roster so it is going to take a few games to get familiar with the newcomers.
But the player that comes closest to DJ is junior Denise McEnaney, who played in 15 games last year.
Actually, followers of Northwest women’s basketball know DJ. She is the junior guard who can knock down a three-pointer or drive to the basket. She plays the game with passion.
DJ is Ashleigh Nelson. Smith gave her the nickname last summer.
“The summer camp was the first time I was around these kids,” Smith said. “She was in charge of music over the loud speaker. When I walked out of the gym and my office is right across the hall, she turned the music up as loud as she could. I would have to go back in and get on her for turning the sound up. I turn the sound down. I’d leave again and she would turn the music back up so I called her DJ.”
When a new coach arrives, there is always a period when the returning players have to adjust to a new system, a new personality and a new way of doing things.
It is especially difficult for a player like Nelson, who is playing for her third head coach in three years at Northwest.
“It is definitely hard,” Nelson said. “We haven’t had any balance the last three years. They are three different coaches with three different offenses, which is hard. But we have players on the team willing to learn and come together over the adversity of having new coaches.”
Giving and accepting a nickname is one sign that the player and coach are comfortable with each other.
All signs point to a smooth transition. A week ago in their exhibition game at Division I Illinois State, the Bearcats lost only 55-50.
“The thing I liked the most,” Smith said, “was our competitiveness. We get down six or eight points and we wouldn’t give in or throw in the towel. We talked about how they would make runs. How would we respond to those runs? We always responded back.
“We were starting to grow up a little bit in a new system right in front of my eyes against a Division I opponent.”
The Bearcats will face another stiff challenge at 6 p.m. Saturday when they play at Quincy.
“It is a great out of conference opponent,” Smith said. “It lets us know what we need to work on. They go 6-4, 6-2 in the post. They have some really good guards on the perimeter. It is going to be a great matchup for us.
“We know it is going to help prepare us for the MIAA season, which starts the first week in December. It is good to go on the road and find out a little about ourselves in a hostile environment against a good team.”
The first MIAA game that counts in the standings is Dec. 5th at Bearcat Arena against Pittsburg State.
By that time, Smith will know more about his team and how it reacts to different situations in a basketball game.
So far, Nelson likes the way the team is coming together.
“It is a new system for all of us,” Nelson said. “We are all freshmen again. A lot of us do get the system and we came together and played hard at Illinois State. That is the thing he is always looking for is effort. He would rather have a mistake with effort than a mistake with not trying.”
Nelson has adapted to Smith’s system quickly. She scored a team-high 17 points, making five of 10 shots from the field against Illinois State.
“We are able to play to her strengths more,” Smith said. “She has the ability to break people down on the dribble or pull up for the open three. In our man-to-man, you can tell that is what she was used to in her high school days.”
Changing coaches can be scary for college players, but it also can be fun. Smith brings instant credibility to Northwest. He had success at Truman. The returning Bearcats saw that first hand.
“He knows the league really well,” Nelson said. “His teams in the past have been very successful. He knows what he is doing. We have to buy in. We know what his offense can do in this league.
“I’m really excited. We have a lot to look forward to this season. Each game is important to us. Quincy is a very good team. We have to come out and play better than last week in order to be successful on Saturday.”
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