In a Missourian file photo, senior guard Mallory McConkey drives toward the basket in Northwest women’s basketball’s 77-76 overtime loss to Pittsburg State Feb. 22 at Bearcat Arena. McConkey averaged 12.8 points per game across 21 contests last season. 

Northwest women’s basketball traveled to Oklahoma, completing their first two games Nov. 19 and Nov. 21 and returned to Maryville with a record of 1-1.

The Bearcats’ season opener was against Northeastern State. Northwest jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but Northeastern State (2-1) kept the contest close the remainder of the first half, gaining a 27-26 lead.

The beginning of the third quarter was a duplicate for the Bearcats, as they began on another 5-0 run. However, the RiverHawks never allowed Northwest to pull away, using its own 6-0 run to end the third quarter up 46-40.

Coach Austin Meyer noticed the team was unable to do the small things correctly, which allowed Northeastern to hang around with the favored Bearcats.

“We never could stretch it (the lead). Anytime we got to a point where we felt like, OK, we got a little bit going, we would give up an offensive rebound, or we wouldn’t fight around the post,” Meyer said. “We have to clean some stuff up, which I thought we did a great job of making improvements off of things we didn’t do well.”

With two minutes remaining in the game, the Bearcats missed a layup that would’ve brought them within 1 point, and eventually lost 64-56.

“They’re a much-improved team from last year,” Meyer said about the RiverHawks. “Offensive rebounds — we gave up way too many, which is something that we know we got to get better at, and post defense we really struggled at.”

Despite a loss, Northwest freshman guard Molly Hartnett showed why she deserved to be on the court, regardless of her inexperience. Hartnett led the team with 22 points in her Bearcat debut on 10-of-16 shooting from the field. Hartnett also dominated the boards, leading the team with nine rebounds.

“She’s been our most efficient player in the preseason. She’s a high field goal percentage kid. She shoots it well from the 3 and has a great feel for the game. She opens a lot of things up for us,” Meyer said. “She’s the best player that we’ve had that can get downhill and make things happen.”

Bearcat senior guard Jaelyn Haggard was kept quiet from the field, scoring 6 points. Haggard wanted to see more physicality from her team.

“The Northeastern game was tough. We got some good looks; I think we were just flat and not nearly as physically tough and aggressive,” Haggard said. “We didn’t play as together as I think we could’ve and just got outworked.”

Defensively, the Bearcats struggled to stop the RiverHawks’ offense. Northeastern had three players score in double figures in senior guards Cenia Hayes and Shae Sanchez, along with sophomore guard Zaria Collins.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense. It was our first game with new players, so I think that might’ve played a role, just considering nerves,” Haggard said. “We honed in most on their shooters and took away their 3-point shots, but they scored a lot in the paint. That was something we’ve talked about post-game that we’d clean up guarding the ball better inside to keep that from happening again.”

In a quick turnaround, the Bearcats were in another dog fight in the matchup against Rogers State (0-2). Although Northwest went on a 12-2 run in the first quarter, the Bearcats led 31-30 at the half.

Down 41-37 after Rogers State’s 11-6 run to begin the third quarter, Northwest gathered its momentum and never trailed by more than 4 points throughout the last period of the game, winning 70-62.

“I was really proud of the girls. We talked about before the game that we feel like we’re a team that’s focused, a team that’s together and a team that plays hard,” Meyer said. “The one ingredient that we were missing was that toughness element. We kind of checked that toughness box, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Haggard cemented herself in Bearcat history, becoming the 27th Bearcat women's basketball player to reach 1,000 career points, scoring 28 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range against the Hillcats.

“I was more relieved when I finally hit 1,000. When I knew I was close, I was hoping COVID-19 wouldn’t get in the way of me hitting that last major goal before I left,” Haggard said. “Thankfully, I got it in our second road game, and to win the game on top of it was what made it exciting. Our team played hard, and I was in a rhythm after hitting my first few shots; that’s what made it so fun to accomplish.”

Haggard accomplished a feat many players before her could not, something Meyer praised her on after the game.

“She’s a kid that is as good of a shooter there is out there. She puts the time in; she’s always in the gym. She’s a weapon for us,” Meyer said. “I was happy for her. She’s a worker and puts a lot of time in. It was great to see her get that.”

Hartnett put on another strong performance with her first career double-double, tallying 17 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Redshirt freshman forward Emma Atwood found her shooting touch, joining in as the third Bearcat double-digit scorer with 10 points.

“I think the most impressive thing I took away from the weekend was that we didn’t even come close to playing our best team basketball and we still went 1-1. Even in the Rogers State game, when I think we played pretty hard, we still had quite a few breakdowns and turnovers,” Haggard said. “If we capitalize on those mistakes and continue to get better, our best basketball will happen and we’ll be an even tougher team to beat.”

Northwest will have its home opener Dec. 3 against reigning MIAA Champions Central Missouri (2-0). The Jennies are tied for 21st in the D2SIDA rankings and return their third-leading scorer from last year’s squad in senior forward Nija Collier. Central Missouri also returns some depth with seniors forward Morgan VanHyfte and guard Gigi McAtee.

Since 2015, the Bearcats have not found the kryptonite for the Jennies, losing nine straight matchups.

The weekend home stint will end Dec. 5 for the Bearcats when they face Lincoln (0-1). The Blue Tigers have struggled in recent seasons, going 3-25 overall and 0-19 in conference play last year. In the last five seasons, Northwest is 7-3 against Lincoln, including a 2-0 record last season.

“In our last games, we played to our strengths, and that’s going to be an important thing moving forward,” Meyer said. “We have the building support to be successful in these upcoming games.”

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