The Lady Mountaineers' 2007-08 Season
What does an athletic victory for a college signify when the majority of the players are hirelings in no way identified with the real life of the school?
…The Berea Citizen (May 7, 1903)
THE LADY MOUNTAINEERS 2007-08 SEASON
Howard, Ashley Jade
BUNKY HARKLEROAD, Head Coach
Four-time KIAC Coach of the Year Bunky Harkleroad enters his eighth season as head coach of the Berea College women’s basketball program with an overall record of 132-68. Since Coach Harkleroad introduced what is now Berea’s signature style in 2003-04, the Lady Mountaineers have set many national scoring records. More importantly, they have won at least 21 games in each of the last 4 seasons and as KIAC champions represented the conference at the 2006 and 2007 NAIA-II national tournaments.
“Our goal, always, is to put together an exciting team that excels at fast-paced, high-scoring basketball,” he says. “This year we may have more athleticism and the best mix of post and perimeter play since I’ve been coaching here. We have a lot of new players, and we’ll see how well they handle the transition to our system. The System works if your chemistry is good. I’d like our chemistry to be great.”
“The System is a clean style of basketball but a quick and aggressive one. This year we’re going to pay greater attention to the little things that make The System fun to watch. We’ll share the ball while making the effort to look for our primary scorers, and we’ll set great screens. Above all, we want to attack relentlessly all the time, both on offense and defense.”
When Coach Harkleroad is not on the court, he is a Special Education teacher for the Berea Independent School System, where he has been employed for the last ten years. His wife Shan and their three children, Tory (13), Tahni (12), and Ty (9), reside in Berea. Tahni is currently the Lady Mounties’ top recruit for the class of 2013-2014.
SUMMER SMITH, Assistant Coach
Former Lady Mountaineer forward Summer Smith returns to the Berea bench for her fourth season as assistant coach. Among her many duties, she orchestrates the complex substitution patterns that characterize The System. But as Coach Smith points out, “Whatever style you play, the most important thing is to master fundamentals. A team that can only run plays, if unschooled fundamentally, will fall apart if given a little freedom. That’s not what we want to happen at Berea.” Coach Harkleroad says, “We’re thankful Summer is back, because she has been a big key to our success.”
CRYSTAL DAVIS, Volunteer Assistant Coach
Crystal Davis, former Lady Mountaineer point guard and the program’s all-time leader in assists, returns to Berea after a year as assistant coach at Wilmington College. Coach Harkleroad says, “When Crystal was running the team as a senior, we had our best season ever. She has lived the end result of what we want, and we’re happy she’s come back to be part of things again.” Coach Davis adds, “At Berea I learned that you have to work hard to get what you want. Nothing worthwhile in basketball or in life is going to be easy, but hard work pays off.”
TOM HARKLEROAD, Volunteer Assistant Coach
Tom Harkleroad officiated NCAA and NAIA women’s basketball for 32 years, including 7 NAIA national tournaments. He served as supervisor of officials in both the KIAC and Mid-South conferences before retiring from officiating to dedicate his energies to the Lady Mountaineers. He drives the team bus, keeps the statistics, assists at practice, and handles many of the details of recruiting. He is also Berea College’s golf coach.
2007 - 2008 Schedule
PROLOGUE: BUNKY HARKLEROAD INTERVIEW, OCTOBER 2007
“This year we may have more athleticism and the best mix of post and perimeter play since I’ve been coaching here. But once again we’re a very young team. We have a lot of new players, and we’ll see how well they handle the transition to our system. I’d like to see them gain enough confidence to think they can do anything.”
“Our style of play won’t change. We’ll play The System. The System works if your chemistry is good. I’d like our chemistry to be great.”
“The System is a clean style of basketball but a quick and aggressive one. This year we’re going to pay greater attention to the little things that make The System fun to watch. We’ll share the ball while making the effort to look for our primary scorers, and we’ll set great screens. Above all, we want to attack relentlessly all the time, both on offense and defense.”
“The state of the program is very good. Expectations are high. I’m hoping we’ll have a very exciting and very athletic, fast-paced, high-scoring team that is fun to watch.”
“Summer Smith has been such a big help to us since she became assistant coach. We’re thankful Summer is back, because she’s a big key to our success. She picks up on the little things of how somebody may be feeling, and she knows how to say the right things. Sometimes I don’t know the right things to say, so I go to Summer and ask, “Which gear do we need to shift into?” She’s very, very good at that. I try to see the big picture, and she notices the details.”
“Two years ago, when Crystal Davis was running the team as a senior, we had our best season ever. Crystal has lived the end result of what we want, and we’re happy she’s come back to be part of things again. She has a great loyalty to Berea College, and she knows The System. We want this year’s team to run The System like her team did but better, because we want to go farther. They’re not anywhere near there yet in terms of being in the right spots or having the right attitude. Trying to incorporate new players into The System is like trying to describe the ocean to someone who has never seen it. It takes time for them to get acclimated. Crystal will be a role model and a bridge between me and Summer and our younger players.”
“My dad has been a tremendously valuable asset to us. Over the years he has picked up more responsibilities. He drives us, does our stats, helps in practice and recruiting. He’s very dedicated to our program. He makes things better for me because he does a lot of things that are hard for me to do, like handling a lot of the details of recruiting and helping our players get recognized. He has been involved in basketball all his adult life, and he has developed a lot of relationships in this region that have made things easier for us.”
THE SEASON BEGINS
2007-08 will be the fifth season that Berea has employed “The System.”
Although coach Bunky Harkleroad believes that The System lends itself better to women's basketball than to men's, there is, to my knowledge, just one other college women’s basketball team using it: Olivet Nazarene University (NAIA-I). The two teams met two years ago, at ONU, with the home school prevailing. The rematch will occur at Seabury Center on November 30, 2007. Only two Berea players, Sarah Hughes and Candy Walls, remain from the team that lost to ONU in November 2005 but found themselves in time to earn Berea’s first-ever national tournament berth in March 2006.
There are 7 freshmen on Berea’s 2007-08 roster. Under normal conditions it is very difficult to integrate 7 new players into a basketball team. It is easy only if you expect all the rookies to sit at the end of the bench and play only garbage minutes in one-sided games.
Bunky, on the other hand, wants all of them to (a) process a system that is contrary to the way they've been taught to play the game all their lives, and (b) play significant minutes.
What I saw in the preseason scrimmages was exactly what I expected to see. The System was imperfectly executed, on offense or defense. The freshmen struggled. Bunky observes, “When I tell them less is more, they seem intimidated. Go figure!”
There is much for new players to learn and to unlearn. But Bunky is too experienced to be discouraged, and so I, a fan, see no reason to be discouraged. When he chose to implement The System he chose a hard way to go. Only a very dedicated and energetic (but level-headed) coach can get a group of kids to execute it. He is that coach, and I believe that what he has done before, he will do again.
I appreciate how difficult The System is to coach. The process is tough, but Bunky chose it because the product is worth it.
Miranda Hales and Katie Bailey will begin the season on the disabled list.
Larry Owensby, Berea College’s number one fan, has returned from a three-year sojourn in Arkansas and now resides in Lexington. He’ll be a mainstay at home games.Dennis Grant, who played basketball at Berea from 1967 to 1971 and retired recently from the Berea Community School System, is now supervising the student events team that will provide the labor essential to the hosting of these games.
1 Berea 97, St Louis College of Pharmacy 51 (November 3)
2 Lindsey Wilson College 101, Berea 78 (November 6)
If you could quantify a team’s talent, experience, discipline, and will to win, and if you could express the sum of those attributes as a whole number and plot that number on a graph, Berea’s place on that continuum would fall almost exactly between those occupied by STLCOP and LWC. The difference between Berea’s level of play and Pharmacy’s is almost exactly the same as that between Lindsey Wilson and Berea. Hence, Berea routs Pharmacy, and is in turn routed by Lindsey Wilson. (Lindsey Wilson, looking upward on the continuum, was in its turn routed by Western Kentucky University last week, 95-62). For the Lady Mountaineers the most valuable of these two games was of course the loss, because this game illuminated the things they need to work on. NAIA Division-I Lindsey Wilson’s roster is crawling with scholarship athletes, but the Blue Raiders did not defeat Berea on depth alone, or on talent alone. For this young Berea team experience will be crucial, and it must learn to execute its preferred style of play with discipline and a collective will of iron if it is to enjoy a successful season. The loss was a perfect sixty-minute teachable moment.
3 Berea 92, University of Virginia at Wise 71 (November 10)
After being outhustled at Lindsey Wilson, the Lady Mountaineers delivered a hustle win in their home opener, delighting the overflow Homecoming throng. After the game, assistant coach Tommy Harkleroad was honored as the 2007 recipient of the prestigious Phyllis "Fee" Taylor Spirit Award.
When Bethel College was a member of the KIAC, no team looked forward to playing them, especially on the road. There was a solid core of truth in all the stories about brutish tactics, vicious fans, and intimidated officials. With Bethel gone, Berea is now the KIAC team no opponent wants to face. Berea doesn’t play dirty, but when you challenge them there is a good chance they will beat you, and even if you beat them, they will wear you out. And no one wants to lose to an outfit composed entirely of “walk-ons,” as nonscholarship athletes are sneeringly termed in this pay-for-play era.
Many non-KIAC coaches dislike scheduling Berea. Many refuse to play the Lady Mountaineers, and those who consent often appear unhappy and frustrated, even losing their composure at times. No other team plays like Berea, and it is difficult for a coach to prepare his or her team for the “controlled chaos” the Lady Mountaineers try to create. Div-II opponents rarely figure out how to control the chaos when they face a team like Berea just once or twice a season.
Most coaches would prefer to take their chances in a halfcourt game against a team that employs man-to-man defense and tries to score by pounding the ball inside on every possession. But Berea’s hallmarks are fullcourt pressure and an offensive attack in which perimeter shooting is the first option. The System is calculated to wear you down by tag-teaming you with an endless succession of fresh bodies. Whenever the Lady Mountaineers resolve to keep the pressure on for forty minutes, they prosper.
Although coaches don’t like to see their starters exhausted by relentless defensive pressure, the fullcourt press is a legal defense. The Lady Mountaineers gain a physical advantage not by elbowing, punching, clawing, or tripping, but by running effective traps and/or forcing you to run, run, run.
Berea, which does not often enjoy a talent advantage, can rarely, if ever, expect to coast and win. If they are to prevail, they must execute The System with a high degree of aggressiveness and discipline. Aggressiveness creates the chaos. Discipline controls it. This is how they manage, more often than anyone expects, to beat teams that shoot better, rebound better, and foul less.
4 Union College 79, Berea 60 (November 13)
Berea has not been a good shooting team by percentage, but the Lady Mountaineers are usually in good shape if they rebound at least 30 percent of their missed shots. They did that in the first half against Union and led 37-32. In the second half they allowed Union to beat them to the ball off the offensive boards, and the Bulldogs, national tournament qualifiers last season, blew by them.
“A good education is expensive,” said Bunky after the game.
Rebounding, especially offensive rebounding, is critical to The System. “Time of possession” is a concept usually associated with football, but it can apply to basketball too, especially System basketball. Whenever the Lady Mountaineers relinquish the ball, they need to get it back, fast. If they can’t do that consistently, they will find any opponent difficult to overcome.
KIAC Supervisor of Officials Ron Dixon attended the game. Anticipating the usual fast pace, he observed, “Bunky’s idea of slowing it down is putting a higher arc on a three-point shot!”
5 Berea 94, Hanover College 84 (November 16)
6 Berea 102, Transylvania University 92 (November 17)
A welcome change: the 2007-08 Lady Mountaineers are sporting royal blue road uniforms once again, shedding the black-and-blue look of recent seasons.
Berea is 4-2 after sweeping Transylvania’s tournament, gutting out two quality wins against tough NCAA competition. The Lady Mountaineers’ willingness to keep their feet on the gas enabled them to transcend deficiencies in shooting and rebounding against bigger and more experienced opponents. For Berea, unremitting hustle is always a prerequisite for victory. Of all the things they must do to be successful, staying aggressive may be the most important.
University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie says he seeks players who “have the ability to want to be coached and the ability to try to be better.” We don’t often think of these attributes as abilities, but they are. As Bunky gets to know his new players, he is discovering who has these abilities. These players will become contributors and, eventually, difference-makers.
Transy’s tournament featured a crowd-pleasing exhibition by the remarkable Dr Lee Walden, a 65-year-old great-grandfather and Senior Olympian from Evansville, Indiana, whose specialty is the 3-point shot. “Doc” attempts to sink 10 threes from 5 spots, for a total of 50, in under 5 minutes. At Transy he made 44 and had the place buzzing.
Before Doc left the building I asked him his secret. “It’s all mental,” he replied. “You don’t let a miss or even a pair of misses bother you. You stop the mental bleeding immediately!”
Where is she now? Known at Berea for the spectacularly high arch on her three-point shot, Morrisa Benberry (2001-2005) recently completed her MSc in Finance at the University of Wolverhampton in England. Now she’s playing basketball in Huelva, Spain.
Mo says, “I’m glad school is over for now, but I am currently studying for the CPA exam, so it’s not quite over. My team is called C.B. Conquero. It’s not professional, but they brought me and another American girl over to help them get to the next level. We get paid (not a lot), and they paid for the flight and an apartment too. There are great expectations for American players. I am trying to adjust. We’ll see what happens!”
7 Berea 96, Bryan College 60 (November 20)
Leading 60-21 at the half, Berea took off the press and cruised to a lopsided victory. The Lady Mountaineers were outrebounded again but, for once, outshot an opponent by percentage. What made this victory so gratifying is that Bryan is not just any opponent. This is the NAIA-II dynasty that has earned a berth in each of the last 4 national tournaments and finished last year ranked #11 in the country after a 25-7 season in which the Lady Lions mauled Berea 100-82 in the first-ever meeting of the two schools.
Perhaps Bryan was overconfident. They didn’t bring their “A” game, but Berea did. 14 Lady Mountaineers scored, with 10 of them hitting 3-pointers. No Berea player played fewer than 9 minutes or more than 16. Not coincidentally, the Lady Ms showed a better grasp of “The System” than in any of their previous efforts.
8 Berea 99, Menlo College 84 (November 24)
9 Concordia University at Irvine 94, Berea 71 (November 25)
They came, they saw, they conquered, and then they were conquered. Berea’s invasion of California was a tale of bitter and sweet, ridiculous and sublime.
In overcoming Menlo the Lady Mountaineers proved themselves capable of defeating a national Top Ten team on the road, a feat they hadn’t been able to accomplish in previous seasons. The Lady Oaks, unlike Bryan last week, had their “A” game on display before their hometown fans, but this only served to bring out the best in Berea. The victory was a significant milestone in the history of a program that continues to surpass all expectations.
Berea’s 46-39 halftime lead was fueled by 6 three-pointers by freshman guard Brittany Manns, who has displayed a consistent ability to launch a quick and accurate shot from behind the arc. But after Manns was disabled by an ankle injury early in the second half, Berea’s three upperclassmen (senior Stephanie Corry and juniors Sarah Hughes and Candy Walls) stepped up, and Berea outpointed Menlo in that half as well. After the game the Menlo coaches and players showed their class by offering sincere compliments and congratulations. This fine display of sportsmanship was the perfect aftermath to a game that exemplified the Lady Mountaineers’ unique ability to excite and to entertain. Perhaps unexpectedly, tournament attendees found themselves treated to a stimulating exhibition of the joy of athletic competition.
After the game Bunky commented, “Midway through the second half we had to recommit to playing clean and aggressive and to continue gambling. It was a huge win, very hard-fought, and a System win for sure.”
But facing another powerhouse the following afternoon, Berea laid an egg. Like fellow NAIA Division-I team Lindsey Wilson, Concordia is loaded with scholarship players, and they’ve got size to burn. Berea has just three players taller than 5-9, and all three are freshmen. Still, a better team effort would have produced a more competitive game. Passivity is poison, especially to The System, and the Lady Mountaineers can never expect to win if they fail to go all-out.
Of all the attributes coaches value in an athlete or a team, consistency ranks at or near the top of the list. Berea’s young team has shown that they can achieve great results, but they have yet to prove they can deliver a great effort every game. That’s a goal they’re working toward.
10 Olivet Nazarene University 106, Berea 101 (November 30)
11 Berea 104, Illinois Institute of Technology 76 (December 1)
Berea is now 7-4 after splitting two games at their own tournament, the Berea Pepsi Classic. The first featured a rematch of the infamous encounter two seasons ago at the Run and Gun Classic in Bourbonnais, Illinois, when Olivet Nazarene, trailing by 8 points at the half, rallied to beat the Lady Mountaineers by 40 in what still stands as Berea’s bitterest defeat since implementing The System in 2003.
Olivet Nazarene is women’s college basketball’s other noted exponent of The System. They’re an NAIA Division-I program boasting 12 scholarship athletes, and they hold the same scoring records in Div-I that Berea has set in Div-II.
These two teams produced a startling contest featuring roughly 400 substitutions and precisely 86 turnovers (off unrelenting pressure defense) and 86 3-point attempts (of the 173 shots taken). Olivet led 56-46 at the half, pushed their margin to 84-63 midway through the second half, then endured a furious 30-9 rally by the Lady Mountaineers that tied the game at 93. When the smoke cleared Olivet found itself on the plus side of a 106-101 victory, undoubtedly reluctant to acknowledge that the score might very probably have been reversed if Berea hadn’t had to take the floor without leading scorer Brittany Manns, who watched the game on crutches.
After the game Olivet coach Doug Porter, ever magnanimous in victory, remarked, “They gave us a little more trouble than we expected.” Lest anyone shed a tear for the Lady Tigers, they managed to pound Midway 117-96 the following afternoon.
Illinois Tech, the Lady Mountaineers’ second opponent, did not, for reasons known only to coach Antwon Johnson, attempt a 3-point shot in either of the games they played in Berea. The Scarlet Hawks are so well-disciplined that any player finding herself looking at an open 3 carefully stepped inside the arc before launching a shot. Although this did not prove to be a winning strategy, Tech played hard from start to finish.
12 Berea 96, Point Park University 68 (December 7)
Berea’s invasion of Pennsylvania was a huge success. With the Lady Mountaineers up 50-38 at the half, Point Park’s athletic director confidently declared, “Berea’s going to wear out. You can see it already. You can’t play basketball that way.” Whereupon Berea outscored Point Park in the second half 46-30. Sophomore point guard Annbruce Madden led all scorers with 21 points as part of her finest all-round performance since arriving at Berea.
Bunky is particularly happy that in the 12 games Berea has played so far, six different Lady Mountaineers have led the team in scoring. It is desirable in The System to feature a balanced attack in which everyone on the roster is a threat to score.
13 Malone College 83, Berea 78 (December 8)
With their road trip only half completed, Berea’s post-Point Park celebration (enjoying the true taste of Pittsburgh at a Primanti Brothers Restaurant) may have been a tad too boisterous. The Lady Mountaineers played the first half at Malone as if wearing lead shoes and staggered into the locker room trailing 40-28.
Berea rallied to tie the game at 78 with 26 seconds left, but it was the home team that emerged with the victory. Malone has a nice team, but they’re no bigger than Berea and can’t be described as an offensive juggernaut. The Lady Mountaineers can’t prevail when they don’t outhustle their opposition, and Malone’s 55-32 advantage on the boards told the story of this one.
This year’s team (now 8 and 5) has not yet been able to muster the collective will to play more aggressively than opponents every time out, and especially on the second day of consecutive games. They’ll get another chance when the 2007-08 season continues at the Union College Holiday Classic, December 28 and 29.
14 Berea 99, University of Virginia at Wise 66 (December 28)
15 Union College 127, Berea 116 (December 29)
Berea is now 9-6. The Lady Mountaineers have played very well at times, but they have struggled to put two good halves together and to play good games back to back. They’ll be working on this.
During the last five seasons Berea has played many games in which an opposing player, usually a post player, has recorded the best statistical game of her career. Many times this occurs in games Berea wins, although not always.
In the first game of the Union College Holiday Classic, Virginia-Wise center Adrienne Womack scored 26 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots in the 30 minutes she played. It was a wonderful night’s work if you overlook the fact that Berea won the game by 33 points.
Berea’s opponents tend to score more points against Berea than they do against their other foes, even in games they lose to Berea. Berea’s goal is simply to outscore an opponent, not to surrender less than an arbitrary point total. A team beating Berea’s press is usually rewarded with an easy layup opportunity, but Berea can accept a quick two points by an opponent because on these occasions the Lady Mountaineers get the ball right back. Berea’s pressing defense is designed to force turnovers and thereby create a shot differential. Although Berea is not a good shooting team by percentage, they typically take many more shots than their opponent does, with the majority flying from beyond the three-point arc. The simple mathematics of this approach can often defeat opponents who shoot well, who do everything right but win the game.
But facing the host school in the second game of the Classic, Berea had no antidote for Union center Brooke Smith, who poured in 54 points, most of them in the second half, when Union outslugged Berea 75-52. Again and again Smith’s teammates got the ball to her in the low post, and again and again she delivered. Smith had the stamina to play 37 minutes of this furious-paced game without losing her edge. The Lady Bulldogs executed coach Tim Curry’s “feed the big dog” strategy on practically every possession of the second half. Union, a national tournament qualifier last season, has now defeated Berea twice this year and has earned bragging rights. Smith added 16 rebounds to her school-record 54 points. She had 25 points and 12 rebounds when Union beat Berea six weeks ago.
Smith is a legitimate NAIA-II All-America candidate, and Union, a national tournament qualifer last season, looks even stronger this year. I’d rate them as the favorite to win the Appalachian Athletic Conference. Their first seven are quick and well-disciplined, and like most teams (but unlike Berea) they don't play their weaker players, ever.
Bunky wasn't happy about some of the dumb fouls Berea committed, and he is concerned about some Lady Mountaineers who are playing below their abilities and underachieving. But on the whole he was pleased with the team's effort (which has been a problem in back-to-back games) and commitment to The System.
If Bunky has to lose, he would much rather lose 127-116 than 77-66. He reasons that Berea has a far better chance to win a game that is high-scoring. It was obvious that Union's team was quick, smart, and experienced enough to beat Berea's press consistently. But Bunky kept the press on because it gave Berea its best chance to win.
I have seen Berea win many games in which they fall behind but catch up by continuing to attack aggressively, on offense and defense, with waves of fresh bodies from the bench. That wears the opposition out, and in the last five minutes they find they're no longer getting anything from their possessions. They start missing those easy layups, and Berea gets the rebounds. Union proved that they had both the conditioning and the mental toughness a team needs to withstand this onslaught, but the game was closer than the final score indicated.
Incidentally, the two teams set an NAIA-II record for total points (243), breaking the previous record of 231 Berea helped set while defeating Midway 120-111 in an overtime game on January 11, 2007.
Ailing players Miranda Hales and Ashley Sumpter did not suit up for Berea, but Brittany Manns was back in the lineup for the first time in a month.
16 Berea 113, Milligan College 111 (January 3)
Question: how do you beat a team that outrebounds you 57-36? Answer: by a very narrow margin, if you can manage to win at all.
The Lady Mountaineers, apparently experiencing a “bounce” after their all-out battle at Union in their previous contest, came out flat, and that might have been a permanent fatal error against a dangerous Milligan squad well prepared and well coached by coach Rich Aubrey. Fortunately the Lady Ms decided to ramp up the intensity in time to overtake the Lady Buffaloes, barely. Freshman guard Ashley Jade Howard scored the winning basket with 1 second left on the clock.
Berea did a good job of not fouling, and that was decisive. Fouling slows down the pace to allow an opponent to catch its collective breath, and that’s not something Berea wants. Berea’s fullcourt pressure will always produce its share of whistles, but the team avoided the silly fouls that hurt them at Union.
Later Coach Aubrey commented, “We played a great game tonight, but we made too many mistakes at crucial points in the game that were costly. We just were not able to make big plays on offense or defense down the stretch to help us finish the game with a win.”
But that’s Berea’s game, to wear down the opposition to the point where they’re ineffective down the stretch. As it has so many times, this strategy worked against Milligan.
17 Berea 119, Trinity Christian College 83 (January 5)
Berea got Miranda Hales back for this game, and she contributed 17 mostly effective minutes. They needed her, because three Lady Mountaineers were too injured to suit up: Kaylan Dixon, Brittany Manns, and Katie Bailey.
Trinity Christian, a national tournament qualifier in 2007 out of a tough conference (the CCAC), had the misfortune to play NAIA-I Georgetown just 18 hours before tipping off at Berea. The Trolls competed strongly at Georgetown, leading at the half before succumbing by just 8 points. That effort left them without a full tank at Berea, but the game was no walkover. The Lady Mountaineers had to play hard to win, and they did.
Ashley Jade Howard has scored 118 points in the 83 minutes she has played in Berea’s last four games, with 17 rebounds, 24 assists, and 9 steals.
18 Pikeville College 90, Berea 78 (January 12)
Berea played its best game last season at Pikeville, annihilating the Lady Bears 120-85 on their way to setting a points record at Pikeville’s gym. Berea never executed The System better, but there was no carryover effect to this season. Berea played its worst game of 2007-08 in succumbing at home to a 3-14 Pikeville squad.
Pikeville coach Bill Watson decided to deploy two five-player rotations in alternating two-minute shifts for the entire game. The Lady Mountaineers made Watson look like a genius by failing to play all-out for most of the first half, which ended with Pikeville ahead 44-32. Although Berea fought back to within four points in the second stanza, they never mustered enough energy to pull ahead.
Oddly enough, Berea accomplished each of its four goals (to take 100 shots, attempt 45 three-pointers, rebound 30% of their missed shots, and force 30 turnovers) and still managed to lose. The Lady Mountaineers shot poorly, just 16 of 45 from inside the arc and 8 of- 59 from beyond it, yet might have won the game had they hustled enough to grab more than 58 rebounds (Pikeville had 76).
Berea now begins conference play with an 11-7 team that has answered no questions. They’ve played very well, very poorly, and just about every other way in between. Which is the real Berea? That will depend on how much this team loves to win and hates to lose. If and only if the Lady Mountaineers intensify the passion, they’ll be a factor in the KIAC race.
Fans asking what ails Katie Bailey now have an answer. A busted shinbone is likely to keep the freshman forward sidelined for the rest of the season. Freshman forward Kate Dixon hopes to strengthen her injured knee in time to contribute later this month.
You can read Stephanie Corry’s senior profile on this site.
Where is she now? Kim Owen is teaching social studies at Blazer High School in Ashland, KY. She’s also assistant coach for the Blazer Kittens girls’ freshman, junior varsity, and varsity basketball teams.
19 Alice Lloyd College 86, Berea 85 (January 15)
The Kentucky State Police closed the Hal Rogers Parkway between Manchester and Big Creek after an eastbound tanker overturned and spilled a load of fuel on the highway. As the Berea College bus approached the roadblock, men’s coach John Mills persuaded Department of Transportation workers to escort the bus past the wreck. Nothing stops a basketball game in Kentucky.
The occasion was a happy one for the Berea men, who walloped Alice Lloyd by 41 points. The women didn’t fare as well, losing control of a very closely contested game in the final minute.
All three of Berea’s big freshmen, 6-footers Heather Axline and Kaylan Dixon and 5-11 Katie Bailey, are now on the disabled list. Bunky didn’t expect his team to be undersized this year, but that’s how it has worked out.
20 Berea 107, Indiana University Southeast 75 (January 17)
Berea devastated the Grenadiers with a weapon they hadn’t employed in five years: traditional basketball. Bunky set aside the mass substitutions and pressing defense that characterize The System, committing the team to 40 minutes of conventional play. The improvement in performance was dramatic.
Berea has just one senior and two juniors, and too many of the freshmen and sophomores were discovering that they were less comfortable with The System than they thought they would be. With many of his players unable muster the elan it takes to make The System work and the team’s competitive spirit waning, Bunky decided he needed to adapt before morale evaporated and the season was lost.
“We had been comparing this group unfavorably to past teams, trying to motivate them, but they were sick of it and weren’t responding. The team we had four years ago embraced The System as a way to unlock their potential. It worked for them, but it hasn’t been working for the team we have now. The other teams craved the freedom The System gave them, but this team wants structure. We’ll still shoot the three, but it’s going to be part of a clearly defined, patterned offensive attack our current players are showing they can excel at. On defense we haven’t been able to run effective traps consistently and have been surrendering way too many breakway baskets. So we decided not to press IUS. We changed our emphasis from stealing the ball to contesting every shot in the halfcourt.”
When you find yourself with square pegs that don’t fit into round holes, you redesign the holes. Most players around the country, if asked, will say they want to run, but that isn’t always so. Some of them can’t run well, and others learn that they really don’t like to run much at all. With too many Lady Mountaineers retreating into a passive shell, Bunky and his assistants felt the time had come to keep their more aggressive and productive players on the floor longer. That was the strategy that enabled the team to shine at last year’s KIAC tournament, and once again it worked. The effect was like watching the driver of a Ferrari lifting her right foot from the brakes and mashing it down on the gas pedal.
Emerging from a jubilant locker room after the game, Bunky reflected, “Coaching is about placing your players in a position to succeed, and when they succeed, morale and enthusiasm improve. The identity we were trying to impose on our current group was frustrating them and eroding team chemistry. So I asked them to decide who they wanted to be and how they wanted to be remembered, to define their own identity, to make it theirs. I ask our players to be selfless, but that applies to me as well. For me as a coach, it’s not about holding rigidly to one certain style but about designing an experience that is fulfilling and meaningful for our players. We made an important change, and we’ll stick with it as long as it works as it did tonight.”
21 Asbury College 83, Berea 78 in overtime (January 19)
The answers aren’t pretty, but answers they are.
The Lady Mountaineers, playing their second game of non-System basketball, couldn’t hit shots from close range, fouled and turned the ball over more than their opponent did, and were outrebounded by 20.
The team that wanted most to win was the team that won. Asbury’s victory was its first over Berea in five years.
22 Berea 110, Midway College 71 (January 22)
At a team meeting the players convened at 7 a.m. the morning of the game, the Lady Mountaineers voted in favor of a return to The System, and Bunky gave his consent. Rededicated, the team gave KIAC frontrunner Midway more than they could handle, working for good shots while forcing 31 turnovers. Eight Lady Mountaineers scored in double figures.
Bunky said, "The beauty of tonight was that no single player did anything spectacular, but nobody wanted to be the player who let her teammates down. It's that simple."
The player vote was not unanimous, and Berea’s future success will depend upon the degree to which the dissenting players embrace a team concept. Tonight they did, but the Lady Mountaineers have been so wildly inconsistent that no one can predict if they will mount and sustain a united effort down the stretch. No one doubts that they are a very, very good team when they decide to outwork the opposition.
In this game junior forward Candy Walls passed her second significant career milestone. She scored her 1,000th career point to go with the 500th career rebound she seized in the game against IUS. Walls now has 1007 points and 519 rebounds in her career.
Bunky commented, “Candy is a terrific athlete and a fierce competitor. She plays as hard as anyone I’ve ever coached and has been a key member of our team. We are very proud of the fact that she is now a member of both the 1,000-point and 500-rebound clubs at Berea. She is one of a very few who have accomplished either in the history of our program.”
Walls says, “I try to go as hard as I can all the time. I would like young athletes to know that my approach to the game is to play each game as if it is my last game, but also that basketball games are won by teams, not individuals. The most important thing, though, is just to have fun!”
23 Berea 95, St Louis College of Pharmacy 55 (January 25)
Berea is 14-9. The Eutectics are now 3-13 and have lost their games by an average margin of 41 points. They take the punishment and come back for more. KIAC fans ask how they do it. I asked Athletic Director Jill Jokerst to explain the particular obstacles her program must overcome to mount a successful program of intercollegiate athletics at STLCOP. She writes:
“St. Louis College of Pharmacy offers athletics as part of its mission to provide a well-rounded pharmacy education. Our teams have developed over the years in response to student interest and participation. Our women's basketball began intercollegiate competition in the 2002-03 season, enjoying a winning season with a wide array of NAIA and NCCAA schools on their schedule.
“In an effort to provide our student-athletes with opportunities for post-season play and recognition opportunities, St. Louis College of Pharmacy joined the KIAC and in doing so gave the conference a sixth team needed to secure an automatic bid to the NAIA national basketball tournament. Since joining the KIAC our teams have faced much more difficult playing and traveling schedules.
“Due to St. Louis College of Pharmacy's educational mission, no athletic scholarships are awarded to any student-athletes. You might say that our program holds true to the ideals of providing sports for the pure love of the sport and competition. Many of our athletes were heavily involved at the high school level and can't imagine not having the opportunity to continue their athletic careers. That said, students from St. Louis College of Pharmacy face some unique challenges.
“Our institution is pharmacy-only. If you don't want to be a pharmacist, StLCoP isn't the school for you. The curriculum is intense and science based, similar to medical or veterinary school. Our students give up a good portion of their already limited free time (and study time) to participate as athletes. Due to class and lab schedules, our teams practice fewer times a week than most college teams and with less than a full squad, something most coaches would find challenging. In addition, the athletic department eligibility standards are more rigorous than those of the conference or association. Each and every coach for our programs is part-time, holding a full-time job outside of the institution. While our institution is highly regarded in the field of pharmacy and we enjoy a large number of qualified applicants, in regards to athletic recruiting, the above act as limiting factors.
“We're no different than any other athletic program: our coaches and players enjoy winning and measure their success in that manner. That said, we also recognize that we face hurdles that others don't and derive satisfaction from putting together competitive teams. Our athletes and coaches are proud of their individual and team achievements. As an Athletic Director, I am proud to serve our small but highly motivated group of dedicated student-athletes and coaches.
“I hope this sheds some light on how and why St. Louis College of Pharmacy continues to offer and compete in intercollegiate athletics. I'm sure our athletes would say it better, though. Thanks for the opportunity to share.”
Berea’s freshman forward Kaylan Dixon returned to the lineup in this game and fit right in. She played 4 minutes, launched 4 three-point attempts, made 3 of them, and grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds.
By the way, Berea’s game at Tennessee Temple University, originally scheduled for January 28, has been cancelled at TTU’s request. Now, while the other KIAC schools are beating each other’s brains out, Berea will enjoy a 10-day layoff before completing its conference schedule in February. With several Lady Mountaineers ill or injured, the layoff couldn’t come at a better time. Practice and chalk talks will continue, of course.
Where is she now? Ashley Miller is pursuing her master’s degree in nursing at the University of Louisville. In August she’ll be credentialed as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. And she’s still competing in the occasional pageant. Lest anyone forget, Ashley was first runnerup for Miss Kentucky in 2006. (How many Miss Kentucky candidates could say that they are the all-time leading rebounder at the college they attended?) Recently Ashley was named the 2007 winner of the Miss America Community Service Award.
24 Berea 95, Alice Lloyd College 79 (February 5)
After sophomore guard Miranda Hales thrilled the crowd with a rousing National Anthem, the Lady Mountaineers avenged their one-point defeat at Pippa Passes last month. The team showed some rust after its ten-day layoff but always seemed to sink a clutch three-pointer whenever the Lady Eagles threatened to catch up. Both teams hit 32 shots, but 15 of Berea’s landed from beyond the arc, versus just 5 of Alice Lloyd’s.
25 Berea 101, Asbury College 77 (February 7)
Berea is 16-9. If the Eagles expected Berea to play conventional basketball as they did when the schools first met three weeks ago, they were disappointed. The Lady Mountaineers avenged their overtime loss with a classic System game in which they met all four of their goals.
Although Asbury may be fading, they’ve come a long way from the days, not so long ago, when they had to play half a season with just 5 players. Coach Debi Thomas and that courageous group managed to hold their program together, and this year’s edition can compete with anyone when they play their very best. They’ve got upset victories over Alice Lloyd, Berea, and Kentucky Christian to prove it.
The Lady Mountaineers will have 6 days to prepare for their showdown at Midway. Midway’s senior-led team is ravenously hungry for a trip to the nationals, and they have to be smarting from their one-sided loss at Berea. They feel a hot desire to make a statement in front of their hometown fans. Past results mean nothing: this game will be KIAC competition at its best.
Where is she now? Ashlee Crump writes, “I am working at Kentucky State University in the Athletic Academic Center as an Athletic Academic Administrative Assistant. I am also an advisor for the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). I will be getting my Master's this May in Public Administration, and after that I plan to get a PhD in the department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation at the University of Kentucky. I am in the process of becoming a volunteer for the Special Olympics of Kentucky, and I'm really excited about that! Other than that I am spending time with family and friends, growing spiritually and mentally, spending a lot of time at church, reading a lot of books, writing a lot of poetry (one of my many gifts!), and staying focused on developing a future in which I will be able to be a servant leader to the world.”
26 Midway College 96, Berea 85 (February 15)
Another long layoff (eight days this time) helped Berea not at all. A bad ankle, sprained in practice, obliged freshman forward Heather Axline to sit this one out, depriving fans of an eagerly anticipated matchup with Midway’s Ashley Parker in the low post, and both senior guard Stephanie Corry and sophomore guard Annbruce Maddenwould leave the game with injuries. But it was Midway’s night. The Eagles avenged their loss in Berea, all but clinched the KIAC championship, and established themselves as odd-on favorites to win the KIAC tournament and represent the conference in next month’s national NAIA-II tournament in Sioux City.
The Lady Mountaineers, trailing by as many as 26 points in the second half, fought back to within 4 with 3 minutes to play, but Midway held on. This senior-led team played with a burning desire to win that was eerily reminiscent of Berea’s recent past. In sports it is often observed that it’s tough to make it to the top but even tougher to stay there. Berea struggled mightily to get to the top, enjoyed the view from the summit for two years, and now seems ready to yield its place to a team that’s as determined to get there as Berea once was.
Don’t count the Lady Mountaineers out yet, though. Last year’s team staggered down the stretch to end up with the worst draw in the KIAC tournament, yet dug in, fought hard, and confounded everyone by winning three tough games to punch a return ticket to Sioux City. There is still plenty of meaningful basketball to be played.
27 Berea 96, Virginia Intermont University 85 (February 21)
Berea is 17-10. Although the Lady Mountaineers didn’t play particularly well, they had enough in the tank to defeat the 7-22 Lady Cobras. Bunky used this nonconference game to experiment with different looks, hoping to see a combination that will be effective in the KIAC tournament with freshmen Heather Axline and Brittany Mannssidelined. Sophomore Annbruce Madden and Senior Night honoree Stephanie Corry, the two players who had to leave Berea’s last game with injuries, played the most minutes in this one.
28 Indiana University-Southeast 69, Berea 64 (February 23)
IUS has a size advantage. They decided to use it.
29 Berea 125, St Louis College of Pharmacy 43 (February 28)
30 Berea 84, Indiana University-Southeast 79 (February 29)
31 Berea 121, Midway College 101 (March 1)
For the fifth consecutive season, Berea (20-11) has won at least 20 games and has led all NAIA-II teams in scoring. This year’s team has averaged almost 95 points per game. Once again Berea will be travelling to Sioux City for the NAIA-II national tournament, which will begin Wednesday, March 12.
Peaking at the right time, the Lady Mountaineers played their best ball of the season in the KIAC tournament. Showing more heart, more desire, more discipline, and more teamwork than in any previous three-game sequence, Berea came of age just in time to claim a third consecutive championship.
Coaches dislike blowout games, even when they win, because players are tempted to get sloppy and develop bad habits. But in the Pharmacy game Berea’s demeanor was serious and businesslike, with the players executing crisply in every combination on the floor. This boded well for the semifinal game with IUS, which Berea won with every player on the roster contributing to an impressive total team performance. The Lady Mountaineers proved they could play a pressure-packed, furiously paced game with no slackening of either poise or effort from tipoff to final buzzer. IUS tried their hardest to keep up but could not.
The Midway game was more of the same. The senior-led Eagles were ravenously hungry for national recognition, but Berea forced a double-digit lead early and kept Midway at arm’s length for the remainder of another barnburner that left spectators gasping.
The Final Countdown (March 5)
As you now know, the Berea College Lady Mountaineers will challenge the Mustangs of Morningside College in the first round of the NAIA-II national women’s basketball tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 CST (9:00 EST) on Wednesday, March 12.
Morningside is almost certainly the most formidable opponent Berea has faced in the 47-year history of the program. The Mustangs were ranked #2 in the nation in the final NAIA-II poll. Their won-lost record is 30-3. They won the national championship in 2004 and 2005 and lost in the quarterfinals of the national tournament in 2006 and 2007. They are led by two charismatic stars, All-Great Plains Athletic Conference guards Dani Gass and J.J. Hall. Jamie Sale, their coach, was voted GPAC Coach of the Year.
Because Morningside College is located in Sioux City, there will be intense local interest in this game, and that is why it was scheduled for the prime time slot in the first round of the tournament. The Tyson Events Center will be filled to capacity, and the noise will be deafening.
The mere fact that Berea is playing Morningside will garner a great deal of publicity for our school. Basketball fans who haven’t heard of Berea or who paid little attention to Berea’s two previous tournament matches against opponents from Michigan (2006) and Indiana (2007) are going to want to know all about our team and our school. And if Berea defeats Morningside, the Lady Mountaineers will find themselves in an even brighter spotlight.
Bracketologists and other prognosticators won’t wax enthusiastic about Berea’s chances to beat Morningside, but I sincerely believe that the Lady Mountaineers have a chance to upset the Mustangs. If the Lady Ms display the joyous enthusiasm, the poise, the discipline, the teamwork, and the will to win they did last weekend in sweeping the KIAC tournament, this will be a competitive game, and in a competitive game anything can happen. There’s a David for every Goliath. The issue will be decided on the court, not in the polls.
I will be going to Sioux City again this year, and I’ll be posting daily tournament updates every evening beginning Monday, March 10. You can read them elsewhere on the site.
You can access the 2008 Lady Mountaineer Postseason Media Kit.
If you could identify every physical, mental, and emotional attribute that is essential to a basketball player’s success, and if you could score an individual player’s performance in each of these areas on a numerical scale, you could compute a team score by adding up all the individual scores. The team with the highest cumulative score would probably be the team that won the championship of your league. The champion is the team that possesses a collective advantage in physical, mental, and emotional makeup.
The championship team, in other words, would be the team with more players with more ability. Ability exists only if you use it. If you have the potential to be a good rebounder, for example, but don’t care to rebound even though your team might need you to, you’d earn a low score for rebounding ability if I were grading you.
Winning a championship doesn’t happen randomly. It is a feat to be treasured. It signifies that collectively your players contributed more, over the course of a long season, than every other team’s. A championship team is a group of players who have adequate physical skills, are determined to achieve their potential, and are smart enough to figure out how to do that. They combine individual talent with a commitment to cooperation and teamwork.
The Lady Mountaineers of the mid-2000s rose in the KIAC standings because they were driven to succeed. When they were up and coming, when they were underdogs, they learned how physically, mentally, and emotionally tough they had to be if they were to climb all the way to the top. A collective commitment to success got them there in 2006. On the verge of slipping off the mountaintop in 2007, they rallied to win the championship again. The 2008 team was another that seemed better suited to climbing than to defending the mountaintop, but in the end they, too, defeated the challengers who tried to dethrone them.
It is difficult to replace the mature presence and leadership of exceptional achievers of past seasons like Rebecca May, Crystal Davis, De-An Watkins, and Ashlee Crump. In 2007-08 the Lady Mountaineers didn’t have a scorer like May, a ballhandler-plus-rebounder like Davis or Watkins, or a chemistry builder like Crump. These were players that any team at Berea’s level (NAIA-II) would have loved to have because they don’t appear very often. But the 2007-08 team had enough achievers to win a league championship when they learned to play together as a team, and several of these players have the potential to achieve much more if they can develop the will to do so.
Berea has led all NAIA-II teams in scoring for the past five seasons although leading the nation in scoring has never been a team goal. The team plays a quick-shooting offensive game because coach Bunky Harkleroad believes Berea’s best chance to beat you is to outscore you. All his System teams have been more than the sum of their parts.
Berea’s trademark style is, if executed well, stimulating and exciting for players and spectators alike. But there is a lot more to their appeal than simple running and gunning. All the players who make the team are equal in one unique and important sense: they all play meaningful minutes in every game. The team is a microcosm of the larger Berea ideal of equality, cooperation, and shared work, and just as Berea’s mission inspires admiration in so many people who learn about the school, the Lady Mountaineers attract positive attention from sports fans who can open their minds to a concept of a basketball team that does things differently.
But while sisterhood may be powerful, a basketball team is not a sorority. Berea players are expected to learn, to improve, and to contribute. From everyone there must be effort, and that effort must produce results. Basketball is extracurricular recreation, but anything worth doing is worth doing right. The fun comes not from mindless physical activity, but from exertion with a purpose, from working together to achieve success.
Berea will need players next year. Berea’s trademark System is predicated on depth, to be sure, but Berea’s need is not for mere bodies but for Berea-type players. If Berea College is to continue to have a vibrant women’s basketball program, the school must attract a certain type of player.
Berea needs players who:
1. Have essential physical skills.
Berea needs players who have sufficient body control to run, dribble, pass, shoot, and rebound at the college level. But every school wants such players, and many schools will do anything to get them.
Berea needs players who:
2. Qualify for admission both academically and financially.
While at many schools such qualifications are irrelevant for skilled players, Berea does not admit prospective student-athletes who fail to qualify on one or both counts.
Berea needs players who:
3. Love to win and hate to lose.
4. Would rather play than be practice players who sit at game time.
5. Display an active and aggressive approach to the game.
6. Prefer uptempo basketball.
7. Embrace a team concept.
8. Enjoy being part of a high-scoring offense.
9. Want the ball, both to score and to assist other scorers.
10. Feel satisfaction in outworking and outhustling opponents.
11. Want to be coached.
12. Want to improve.
13. Promote harmony and good will.
14. Take their studies seriously to prepare themselves for life after basketball.
Such players are strongly encouraged to apply to Berea College, and, if they get in, to try out for varsity basketball in the fall.