When my son, Sam, was 11 years old, he joined a junior golf program at Mozingo Golf Course. After some individual instruction, the youth were turned loose to play about six holes on the golf course, some with their parent.
It was there I met another father with his son. I don’t remember having seen him before, but he knew I was the women’s basketball coach at Northwest Missouri State. He was a non-traditional student at Northwest, having recently been discharged from the Air Force.
He asked if he could help coach the women’s team as a volunteer. I’m always leery of so-called volunteers. It had been my experience that volunteers sometimes thought that meant is how much salary can you get a volunteer.
However, this guy seemed sincere, so I told him to stop by the office. The 2010-2011 season had promise. I had several players returning from the year before.
The 2009-2010 season was a year of highs and lows. My Bearcat team had a big win over nationally ranked Emporia, along with other impressive wins. But there were the lows, too. We lost both games in a Classic in Colorado.
The season ended with a little momentum. In the MIAA Tournament, we beat Pittsburg State, who had beaten us twice during the season. In the end, we had pushed nationally ranked Washburn before losing 80 – 66.
I thought the 2010-2011 team could make a run at the MIAA Championship. Gentry Dietz, a transfer from Southern Illinois, couldn’t play until second semester, but if we could hold it together until then, I thought we had a chance.
I had a new assistant coach to go with my new volunteer assistant. That volunteer assistant was Chuck Fox. His son was Creed. He had an older son, Drake. His wife, Penni, opened her house to our players many times.
Chuck’s voice was what you would expect from a person just out of the military. When he spoke in practice, it was a deep, loud gym voice. Shelly Martin described it to me as, “The voice of God.” Chuck never asked for a penny in salary, but his family gave constantly back to our program.
My new assistant coach, Meghan, came to me early in the school year and asked if I would mind if the new volleyball graduate assistant, Kyla Roehrig, could play. Apparently, Kyla had a year of eligibility left. I had recruited her sister, Kelli. Kelli had gone to Michigan State and became an All-American.
It was like a gift dropping from the sky. The first time I saw her scrimmaging with the team, I told Addae Houston, my graduate assistant, that I thought she could take us from a conference contender to a national contender. That was stating the obvious.
One of my big worries was losing my assistant coach of eight years, Lori Hopkins. Lori was a great recruiter and had an excellent relationship with the players. Lori was still at Northwest, going from my employee to my boss as the Senior Women’s Administrator and Compliance Officer.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Lori would still play a major role in the 2010-2011 season. Gabby Curtis had been an average swing guard the year before. Everyone could see her potential, but inconsistent play plagued her first year at Northwest.
Gabby even considered leaving Northwest in 2010-2011, but thanks to Lori, Gabby chose to stay. It was another gift dropping from the sky. We were now set up with a great front court of Gentry Dietz and Kyla Roehig. Our backcourt had a rejuvenated Gabby Curtis, Creighton transfer Abby Henry and three-point shooting specialist, Shelly Martin.
Another player that suffered from inconsistency, Tara Roach, made her junior year in 2010-2011 the best of her career. Tara never started a game, but she was a crowd favorite, adding energy to the game every time she entered the contest.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the rest of the bench was the perfect fit for that team. Monai Douglas had some big moments coming off the bench at point guard. Ashley Thayer had one especially important game.
Ashley was a great three-point shooter. Traveling to Truman State, Shelly Martin was forced to stay home with the flu. Several other players were showing symptoms. Trailing by six points with under a minute left, Ashley hit two three-pointers to force overtime. Her four for four effort from behind the arc saved us from a devastating upset in Kirksville.
After two road loses to conference favorites, Emporia and Washburn, Gentry joined the line-up just before Christmas. The team avenged those loses. The most memorable shot of the season to me was a three-point field goal Gabby hit against Washburn late in the game as the shot clock was running down. It was one of the great moments for the player that would become the MIAA Player of the Year and the only first team All-American ever at Northwest Missouri State.
The only loss heading to postseason was at Fort Hays. The Tigers made 15 three-point field goals. It was such a great and unusual performance, Tony Hopson, the Ft. Hays coach, actually apologized after the game.
It was a tough loss but certainly didn’t slow us down. Now, looking back, I should have sensed the one weakness in our game. Despite being an excellent defensive team, but we sometimes had trouble defending the arc.
One moment where Lori stepped in came after the last regular season game of the year against Pittsburg State. I had been more vocal than normal, and Lori had seen that. She advised me to sit down and enjoy the team’s success. Her exact words were, “They aren’t going to get beat.”
Lori almost always knew what she was talking about. I decided to take her advice. Our next game was the first round of the MIAA Tournament against Truman State.
Lori’s advice seemed golden as we immediately jumped to a double-digit lead. However, by the 15-minute mark of the second half, that lead had disappeared, and Truman had the lead. I decided to abandon Lori’s advice and we pulled out a nine-point win. It was our only win under double digits until the Final Four.
After the game, Lori approached me. I was going to apologize for not following her advice, but she interrupted me. She informed me she was about to walk on the court and jerk me off my chair and tell me to start coaching just about the time I actually did that. Despite not coaching, Lori and I were still on the same page.
One of the most memorable weeks of the season came in the regional tournament in Tahlequah, OK. The games were great, but I’ll always remember from that week was what the team doctor, Dr. Pat Harr, did for me personally. Sam had a bad cold with a cough. I doubted if he could make the trip.
I took him to see Dr. Harr. He assured me that he would help take good care of Sam. I should plan on Sam making the trip. However, Dr. Harr had more than one patient. My grandson, Jacob, rode the bus, too. When he got to Oklahoma, Jacob came down with a worse cold than Sam. Instead of treating my team, Dr. Harr spent more time with my family. When the week was over, the team was in the Elite Eight and Sam and Jacob were completely healthy.
The Elite Eight was really special since it was played at the Civic Center in St. Joseph, MO. The Northwest crowd was large and loud as we beat our first-round opponent from California.
The memorable season sadly ended the next night against Michigan Tech. The Michigan team made eight of 10 three-point field goals in the second half. It was like the Ft. Hays game. I should have seen it coming and been more prepared.
It was the final game for Gentry Dietz and she went out with a bang. After scoring only four first half points, Gentry had the greatest second half of any player that I ever coached. She poured in 29 second half points, missing only one-shot.
That miss came with four minutes left and would have tied the game. Michigan Tech took advantage and hit one of their threes and it was uphill from there. The magical season came up one game short of a national championship, our ultimate goal.
This weekend, that 2010-2011 team will go into the Northwest Missouri State Athletic Hall of Fame. Gabby Curtis will add her individual name to the Hall of Fame, too. Almost all of the players and coaches will return to celebrate the moment. It was those moments eight years ago that made the 2010-2011 season unforgettable.