NW Soccer 2

Freshman midfielder Hannah Stirling guards the ball after being surrounded by multiple Central Missouri players in the 0-3 loss April 2 at the Bearcat Pitch. Northwest will play the Missouri Western Griffons April 9.

Welcome to this week’s Walk The Talk, the weekly mailbag column in which I — your self-proclaimed favorite Northwest sports reporter — answer any and all questions you might have about Northwest Athletics. This week’s edition is a little different, as we’re shying away from specific breakdowns and more so heading back to the basics.

There are other things, too, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

How much does a coach actually matter in a team’s success?

A tremendous amount. Truthfully, a coach is probably the most important part.

A team could have all of the talent in the world but wouldn’t know what to do with it if it weren’t for a coach. Of course, those players would somewhat figure things out, but no team has ever been successful without a coach and probably never will be.

For example, Northwest men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum has, on multiple occasions, taken minimally-recruited athletes and turned them into some of the best basketball players that Division II has to offer.

Trevor Hudgins, a guard who has won back-to-back MIAA Player of the Year awards, was only recruited by a handful of Division II schools while attending Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas. Prior to the Bearcats’ third national title in five years, Hudgins was named the NABC Division II Player of the Year.

Hudgins will play professional basketball when he departs Northwest, whether that be in the NBA or overseas.

Former Northwest guard Justin Pitts was the same way. Pitts — standing at a towering 5 feet, 10 inches tall — wasn’t recruited heavily out of high school, either. By the time he left Northwest, he was the program’s all-time leading scorer, a part of the program’s first national title and was the program’s first NABC Division II Player of the Year back in 2017.

Pitts has been playing overseas since he graduated from Northwest, so that should tell you everything you need to know about how much a coach actually matters. It’s so hard to do that as a coach, but McCollum sure did.

What can we expect from Northwest soccer?

The soccer program will have a matchup with Missouri Southern in the first round of the MIAA’s pseudo-championship tournament. Of course, none of the records really matter, the exact same way nothing really mattered for this spring’s volleyball season.

But, it’d still be cool to win the MIAA (kinda), right? Absolutely. However, Northwest won’t have a chance to do that.

I expect Marc Gordon and company to beat the Lions in the first round. As far as the second, it’ll be tough, as the ’Cats will either play Rogers State or Fort Hays for fifth place in the tournament. It’s a weird setup, but we can all credit that to COVID-19.

I’ll take the Bearcats to win their second game, too, finishing fifth in the MIAA, which wouldn’t be too bad of a starting point for next fall.

What do you think Ben McCollum would be doing if he wasn’t a coach?

If Ben McCollum wasn’t currently the best Division II men’s basketball coach, and if he had never aspired to pursue coaching, he’d be working at Wells Fargo.

He graduated as a finance major from Northwest, actually, and was planning to work for Wells Fargo out of school. One day toward the end of his senior year as a Bearcat, McCollum decided he wanted to be a coach, so he told his coach at the time, Steve Tappmeyer.

Tappmeyer didn’t have any positions open, but McCollum paid his own way to be a “volunteer assistant” on staff that season. He had to make a call to Kansas City, too, where his wife, Michelle, was waiting for him. He told her the plan, which was to no longer pursue his finance career.

They made a list together, and McCollum put on there that he wanted to be a Division II head coach by the age of 27. He was hired less than a month before his 28th birthday.

It’s funny how all of this works out, right? So, McCollum would probably be filing taxes right now if it weren’t for his life-changing alteration to his career path.

If you were tall what sport would you play?

For those that don’t know, I’m 5 feet, 4 inches tall, which doesn’t bode well for most people who want to be a professional athlete. I did play football for, like, 10 years, so I guess I didn’t have to be too tall to do that.

However, I’d probably still be playing football if I were taller. Specifically, I’d probably play wide receiver or safety.

Stilts in sports would’ve been cool, so someone should look into that.

Walk The Talk is a mailbag that focuses on all things Northwest Athletics. To submit a question for the next edition of the mailbag, tweet @ByJonWalker or email j.walker.missourian@gmail.com.

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