On any given day, one can travel through Maryville and see Northwest Bearcat decorations strewn throughout the town.
From cozy businesses owned by residents, to houses tucked away in the furthest reaches of town, those who call Maryville home are unabashed when showing their support for Northwest athletics.
At the same time, Northwest has repaid the loyalty of its fans by producing winning programs in just about every major sport. Football remains dominant, while men’s basketball and volleyball have experienced significant improvements spanning the last two years.
But the overall success of Northwest’s athletic program did not happen overnight. Potential coaches were thoroughly vetted and aspiring student athletes had to buy into the program’s philosophy.
As a result, Northwest boasts the only No. 1 ranked football and men’s basketball programs in the country for Division II. Both football and men’s basketball have won four consecutive MIAA conference titles, but the success does not end there. Northwest’s baseball program started the 2017 campaign with a record of 6-0, matching the 1964 and 1973 teams for the program’s best start.
“I look for how the coaches lead a team,” Director of Athletics Mel Tjeerdsma said. “Most coaches are good at x’s and o’s, but can they lead and coach a team? That is most important.”
If recent success is an indication, the answer to Tjeerdsma’s question is simple: yes. Players arrive on campus knowing the work required to succeed and coaches provide an environment that makes it possible.
Not only has Northwest set the standard for winning in the major sports such as football and basketball, but other programs are beginning to excel as well.
Head tennis coach Mark Rosewell single-handedly turned his team into one of the better programs in the country. Both men’s and women’s teams finished ranked in final 2016 regional rankings, while the men’s team finished No. 12 nationally.
Rounding out the fall sports, cross-country produced one of its better seasons in program history. Coupled with a second-place finish in the MIAA, head cross country coach Scott Lorek also boasts five All-Academic performers for the 2016 season.
“When I look for coaches, I want to see if they can recruit,” Tjeerdsma said. “We want good students and coaches who can recruit those students.”
No program signifies the criteria that Tjeerdsma looks for more than softball. A program that has struggled over the past decade, Northwest softball has produced an influx of young talent that allowed the 2016 team to finish the season second in the conference.
As for the programs that are not as fortunate in experiencing success, women’s basketball and soccer both find themselves in an oddly similar situation.
Both programs struggled the past few seasons, but both programs have young talent on its roster to provide hope for the future. Freshman soccer player Izzy Ramano earned MIAA Freshman of the Year honors following her 2016 season, while sophomore Arbrie Benson has shown the playmaking ability to make the women’s basketball team a threat to win any night.
Winning season after winning season, Northwest has emerged as the paragon of athletics not only in the conference, but also on the national level. Small children in Maryville idolize athletes and weekend events provide hard-working locals a chance to relax and escape for a few hours.
Sure, America is full of schools that produce quality sports programs. But it is a rarity for a school to produce as many winning programs as Northwest. If other schools wish to imitate the winning blueprint provided by Northwest, then they need to look no further than the values Tjeerdsma searches for in his coaches.