Over the summer, The Forum will be catching up with a different Bearcat team each week for our ‘State of the Program’ series where we will check in on where the program is now and what new faces they are bringing in for next season. We begin that series today with women’s basketball.
MARYVILLE, Mo. — The Bearcats saw improvement throughout Austin Meyer’s first season leading the women’s basketball program. They improved from five wins two years ago to eight wins last season.
The most encouraging thing about the season was the way the team closed it. Despite knowing that they were eliminated from postseason contention, the Bearcats turned in their best performance of the year in their final game of the season to beat Washburn, who was 21-5 and 14-3 in the MIAA entering the game, 72-70 in Topeka.
“To be able to win a game like that from a confidence perspective was huge,” Meyer said.
The entire starting unit that finished last season is back this season with Kendey Eaton and Erika Schlosser back for their senior seasons and transferring in to join Meyer’s program last season, and Mallory McConkey, Kylie Coleman and Mia Stillman all being juniors this season.
The program will also return Jaelyn Haggard to the backcourt. The MIAA Freshman of the Year two seasons ago was the team’s second-leading scorer as a sophomore at 12.1 points a night. She was injured late in the season, but should be fully ready to go this season.
“We have a core that we are excited about moving forward and we bring seven new kids in,” Meyer said. “We are just focused on getting better.”
The Bearcats were undersized last season with McConkey starting at the power forward position despite only standing 5-foot-7. She played the position well and was the team’s leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, but Meyer made finding more length for the team a priority for his and assistant coach Addae Houston’s first full season on the recruiting trail.
“You don’t want to take size just to take size,” Meyer said. “Obviously they have to fit what you are trying to do and there is a talent element. We are really confident in who we have coming in.”
No player that suited up for the Bearcats last season stood over 6-feet tall. Three of Northwest’s seven 2019 recruits are at least 6-foot-1.
The tallest of the bunch is JUCO transfer Ellie Horn. The 6-foot-3 center comes to Northwest from Des Moines Area Community College after averaging 12 points and 8.9 rebounds last season and leading her conference in blocks.
“She runs the floor well and blocks shots,” Meyer said.
In addition to Horn, the Bearcats are adding 6-foot-2 Paityn Rau from Waukee, Iowa.
“She can score it in the post, defend, rebound and she can even step out and shoot the three a little bit,” Meyer said. “She is a kid that we can run post-ups to and play inside-out.”
Among the most intriguing of the newest taller Bearcats is 6-foot-1 wing Jayna Green from Millard North High School in Omaha. Green is listed as a guard and a forward for Northwest and Meyer helped Ben McCollum develop a men’s program that values length on the wing so Green is an exciting addition.
“She can play multiple positions,” Meyer said. “Six-one, athletic and can rebound. I think she averaged close to 10 rebounds a game in high school on a state championship team.”
While the frontcourt required the most immediate reinforcements, Meyer and Houston certainly didn’t ignore the backcourt which will lose Schlosser and Eaton after next year and Haggard, Coleman, McConkey and Zoie Hayward the following year.
The four guards that Meyer is bringing in also bring some length to the table. Grayslake, Illinois native Savannah Guether stands at 5-foot-11.
The Bearcats stayed local with two of their guard additions grabbing Treynor’s Kayla Chapman and Central Decatur’s Emma Atwood out of southwest Iowa.
“(Chapman) is just tough and she is a winner,” Meyer said. “(Atwood) is similar to Kayla in that she is a winner and plays hard. I think she was 95-5 in her high school career. ... She was a state champion in track in multiple events.”
The coaching staff went back to Omaha to add a point guard as well with 5-foot-7 guard Chaise Pfanstiel from Milliard West.
“Athletic and she is quick,” Meyer said. “Really good off the bounce and shoots it at a high clip.”
Now the work toward making that second year jump begins now.
“We are expecting everyone to have big summers,” Meyer said. “We don’t hide the fact that we have 17 kids on our roster and 17 kids aren’t going to play. That has been our message to the team, we’ve been very blunt about it this offseason. You need to get in the gym.”
*For more from Meyer, visit the Maryville Forum’s YouTube channel for the full interview.