For the vast majority, Northwest students started their break from classes on Dec. 14. For Northwest women’s basketball, the intermission was shortened, in an adventurous way.
A lot has gone on regarding the program since the last time students were on campus to watch the Bearcats. To start, the reason for having to wait for break to begin was due to a trip to Hawaii. It was, of course, for basketball reasons — mostly.
When assistant coach Addae Houston wasn’t backflipping on a beach in Honolulu, he was standing next to coach Austin Meyer on the sidelines at the Malika Sports Christmas Classic.
First, the Bearcats were tasked with going up against No. 10 Alaska Anchorage. Heading into the final quarter of action, Northwest trailed the Seawolves by 6 points. That lead, for Anchorage, would extend to 11 and be good enough to survive the scare from the Bearcats.
“That was a fun game because just their press and their style that they play,” Meyer said about the Seawolves. “And it was fun because they’re one of the best programs in the country. It was a fun game for us, playing out there.”
For Northwest to not head back to Maryville empty-handed, the Bearcats had to find a way to win against Lindenwood University-Belleville. The Bearcats did, in fact, do that. In a season of highs and lows when it comes to shooting, the team found one of its highest peaks. A 67-52 rout of the Lynx moved Northwest to 6-5 at the time.
The win, aside from Houston’s athletic ability, was the highlight of the trip.
“I didn’t know (Houston) still had the backflip in him,” Meyer said. “But he busted it out, and it was pretty impressive. It was fun to see just how excited everybody was when we got off of the plane. … It was a great experience, and I’m thankful for everybody that helped make that happen.”
“Yeah, that was pretty impressive,” men’s coach Ben McCollum said of the backflip.
As soon as the plane touched down back in Kansas City, Missouri, the women had 14 days before returning to action. When play resumed, the Bearcats played host to Northeastern State Jan. 4 and Rogers State Jan. 6. In which, both of the conference matchups resulted in wins. Northwest was off to a perfect start in the new decade.
“I feel like we were pretty confident (after the two wins),” Meyer said. “From a game-ready standpoint, we’d been pretty ready to play.”
That confidence, within the span of the next week, would be hindered.
With two road games for Northwest, came two losses. The first of which came via No. 16 Emporia State. The Hornets, who are tied for first in the MIAA, toppled the Bearcats in Emporia, Kansas. On the heels of that came a matchup with Washburn, the team Northwest had won two straight against.
That streak, along with the road trip, would come to an end.
The Ichabods, just as the Hornets did, were able to defend their home court across the state line. It was close until it wasn’t. Heading into the final quarter of play, Washburn led 39-31. By the end, the Bearcats fell victim to a 16-point loss.
The losses, Meyer said, hurt the confidence “a little bit.” Nonetheless, putting a dent in the confidence that will be needed heading into the heart of the MIAA schedule.
“We’re just trying to handle adversity a little bit better,” Meyer said. “We’re going to try and find some ways to simulate that more in practice, but — I mean, Washburn hit a half-court 3 at the end of the third when it was only a 5-point game — we just felt like we were defeated after that happened, and there was still a lot of game left.”
Throughout the break, a key piece to the puzzle made her season debut in junior guard Mallory McConkey. McConkey, who was a top-three scorer for the squad last year, was out for the first half of the year with a leg injury. Now that she’s back, Meyer said, there’s an added presence that’s been missed.
“Obviously, she gives us an element of scoring,” Meyer said. “She can get to the basket … She’s a tough kid, and she’s only gonna get better.”
With a dip in confidence, the return of a leader and a full week of anticipation, Meyer and company will take a lesson of everything that has culminated over the last month. Those things, among others, leave the Bearcats with a contest against Missouri Western Jan. 18 in Bearcat Arena.