After splitting a doubleheader on the road, Northwest women’s basketball has made a turn in the right direction during the latter part of the MIAA conference season.
The Bearcats (7-11, 3-6 MIAA) made the 251-mile trip north to square off against the Lopers (12-7, 5-5 MIAA) who have been almost unscathed on their home court, going 9-1 until the Jan. 24 meeting. Northwest came into the contest hungry for a win after dropping its last three games to conference opponents.
Things seemed to click for the Bearcats in the Health and Sports Center, winning each individual quarter edging out Nebraska-Kearney 74-62. Northwest made 12 three-pointers on 29 attempts and missed just one shot at the free-throw line, going 20-for-21 from the stripe.
“The win over Kearney was probably our most complete game as a team,” coach Austin Meyer said. “We played extremely well on the offensive end.”
Sophomore guard Jaelyn Haggard led the team with 16 points with fellow guard Kendey Eaton not far behind finishing with 15 points. Junior guard Erika Schlosser completed a game-high seven assists, and senior forward Kaylani Maiava finished with nine rebounds.
The winning momentum didn’t last long for the Bearcats as they competed in another challenging road test entering Hays, Kansas, to take on the Tigers. Fort Hays (18-1, 9-1 MIAA) is currently ranked as the No. 8 team in all of Division II and at the top of the MIAA standings.
Through the first two quarters, Northwest hung in the game, knocking down eight three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. The two squads went into their respective halftime locker rooms with Fort Hays clinging to a nine-point lead at the midpoint. It was when the second half whistle blew that the tides started turning in favor of the Tigers.
Fort Hays began the third quarter on an 18-0 run and shut the door on any chance the Bearcats had of clawing their way back into the contest. Northwest only added three more buckets coming from behind the three-point line in the second half and was outrebounded 39-22.
The final score from Gross Memorial Coliseum came in favor of Tigers, 91-63.
“We knew Hays was the No. 8 team in the country and No. 1 scoring defense in the league going in, and we scored 40 points in the first half and competed,” Meyer said. “In the second half, it wasn’t so pretty. Hopefully, we’ll learn from it.”
While coming up short, the Bearcats shot 14-for-16 behind the charity stripe against Fort Hays and rose to the top spot in all of Division II basketball in the free throw percentage category. On the season, Northwest has made 204 of 249 free throws, for an average of 82 percent.
“Coach (Addae) Houston always says that free throws win games,” Meyer said. “The girls kind of throw that back in a sarcastic way at us, but at least we know that they are processing it.”
Comparing the 2018-19 season to the many in the past, the players are starting to really take note of the changes that have been happening in and around the culture of women’s basketball at Northwest. Senior forward Maria Dentlinger is a prime example of feeling the change that has come with the Meyer administration.
“I think this year there has just been a lot of new positive energy coming in upbeat practices, and it makes it a lot more fun in those hard practices and workouts,” Dentlinger said. “Whenever everyone is having a lot more fun doing it, it’s just a lot more enjoyable.”
Dentlinger is completing her final season with the Bearcats, scoring 190 points in her career at Northwest.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Bearcats as they welcome Pittsburg State (15-4 overall, 7-3) to Bearcat Arena Jan. 31. The Gorillas are currently fourth in the MIAA conference standings and will only square off against Northwest once during the 2018-19 season. In terms of record books, Pittsburg State controls the all-time record between the two universities, 36-20.
“This is going to be a big week for us taking on Pitt State at home,” Meyer said. “They had cracked the top-5 before losing to Emporia State and Washburn, so they’re really good. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”