When Northwest women’s basketball coach Austin Meyer sat next to men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum in front of a group of reporters March 3 at the Northwest Athletics Media Luncheon, it was one of the seldom times the duo did an interview together.
For McCollum, the questions were motivated by the fact that the men were preparing to be the No. 1 seed in the MIAA Tournament and to host the Division II Central Region Tournament March 14-17 in Bearcat Arena.
For Meyer, the questions were motivated by the fact that the women are on the opposite end of the spectrum, preparing to play as the No. 10 seed after a Newman loss Feb. 29 put the Bearcats in the postseason.
“I’m glad (Fort) Hays pulled it out,” Meyer said. “It was a good feeling to know that we had another opportunity. … It was definitely exciting.”
Over the span of the last three weeks of the season, the women dropped their final six games. Those games included three in which the Bearcats were within one possession during the final minute. Those games also included three double-digit losses for the Bearcats.
The appearance in the tournament is the first since the 2016-17 season, when the Bearcats were bounced in the first round. It’s the first trip to Municipal Auditorium since the 2012-13 season.
“I’m just excited for our team to have an opportunity to go down there and enjoy it,” Meyer said. “Obviously, we want to compete and see what we can do.”
Two years ago, during the season prior to the Meyer era, the women compiled a record of 5-22. In Meyer’s first year, the Bearcats were 8-20. During this season, the Bearcats carry a record of 11-17 into the postseason.
It doesn’t matter what the Bearcats did or didn’t do during the regular season, Meyer said. They finished on a six-game losing skid, which doesn’t hold significance anymore, Meyer added. What matters, he said, is the fact they’re still swimming in the deep end of the conference.
“At the end of the day, we talked about the struggles that we had, well that’s over,” Meyer said. “That season’s over. It’s a new season. It’s a second chance. We can put that last stretch of games behind us and come out and take advantage of the opportunity.”
Before taking over the women’s program, Meyer was a member of McCollum’s staff from 2008-2018. Amid the press conference, McCollum referenced a picture of the coaches during their second season, one that depicted the struggles of an upcoming program by showing the staff with their heads in their hands.
After taking over as the full-time associate head coach, Meyer was a part of the men’s program that captured six conference regular-season titles, four conference tournament titles and the 2017 National Championship.
Meyer was a part of a program that went from worst-to-first. He’s now trying to do that with the women’s program.
“I think what helps is having been through it with (McCollum),” Meyer said. “I’m confident we’re gonna get it there. There’s no doubt in my mind because of what we did on the men’s side, what I’ve learned from Mac and all that stuff.”
“The losing, it’s not fun, you’re sick,” Meyer said. “I don’t think anybody realizes how much it isn’t fun when you’re a coach. I think even as a player you don’t like to lose, but it’s like, ‘Well, I’m gonna go get McDonalds and watch Netflix.’ As a coach, it sits with you.”
The tournament appearance, Meyer said, didn’t come the way that the Bearcats would have liked it to. He wishes they didn’t hang their hat on Newman losing to get them in. He wishes the Bearcats would’ve found a way to muster one win throughout the last six. He wishes for the women to be a part of the program that he left not too long ago.
But, Meyer said, it’s a starting point.
“Obviously, we wanted to finish higher than 10th,” Meyer said. “We gotta also look at where we’re coming from. It is a positive step; it’s a small one.”
“It’s a step,” Meyer said. “I joked with somebody the other day that I think I got more text messages for finishing 10th in the league than I did when we won the National Championship in 2017. Hopefully I’m not getting those in a couple of years.”
The tournament bid marks the first time that the women will be competing in the month of March since the 2013-14 season. No matter if the Bearcats earned their way in or if Newman gave it to them — they’re in.
It’s something that Meyer and McCollum went through until an epiphany struck the program. It’s something that McCollum isn’t a part of any longer. It’s something that Meyer inserted himself into in hopes that the women will one day be where the men are.
“Getting (to the tournament) was a goal,” Meyer said. “So, we’re there, I guess. … We put ourselves in a position to get here, which is a step in the right direction.”