Oct. 20, 2003
NKU PREPARES FOR ANOTHER NCAA RUN
Talented Norse seek fifth trip to NCAA Elite Eight in last six years
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - Once a college basketball coach reaches this level, its usually difficult to remain here for very long. Unless, of course, you have really good players, know the game like few others in your profession and work excruciatingly long hours.
Even then its tough. Players graduate and move on, making it difficult to post the 20-win seasons and earn the NCAA Tournament berths on a yearly basis. Of course, there are some coaches who have built programs into such monstrous powerhouses that the attrition is barely noticeable.
Take Northern Kentucky Universitys Nancy Winstel, who has won 439 games, reached four Final Fours, six Elite Eights and two national championship games in her 20 years as the Norse mentor. Winstel also guided NKU to the 2000 NCAA Division II national championship.
In short, the NKU mentor has built a dynasty during the past 20 seasons, and she knows how to keep it rolling year after year.
A year ago, Winstel faced the challenge of replacing all-time leading scorer and three-time All-American Michelle Cottrell. But a few adjustments here, a new player or two there, and guess where Winstel had NKU visiting for the fourth time in five years?
Yes, the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. And when they arrived, the Norse did not stop until they reached the championship game.
NKU defeated Washburn (Kan.) University and top-ranked California (Pa.) University during the first two rounds to reach the national title game. The Norse then lost to South Dakota State University in the NCAA Division II national championship game.
After the way we lost in the GLVC Tournament (a 66-54 setback to Quincy), I honestly did not know what to expect in the NCAA Tournament, but our players stepped up and did an outstanding job, Winstel said. I thought our three seniors did a great job of showing the way, and our team played with a lot of determination and heart in the NCAA Tournament.
They did not want the season to end, and that was a great run to the national championship game.
Now comes the hard part. How does Winstel and her Norse possibly top last seasons improbable run to the Elite Eight?
I think we have a group of players who are excited about the opportunity to continue our success, Winstel said. Whether it is a returning player or a newcomer, they all know where our program has been. They also know it takes a lot of work to get there, and I think they all want to make sure the program remains successful.
Weve been to the Elite Eight four times in the past five years, so this years team is aware there will be some expectations, and I think everyone is excited about that challenge.
NKU must replace graduated seniors Bridget Flanagan, Amy Mobley and Kristin Polosky - a trio that combined for 3,647 career points - in 2003-04. Winstel, however, welcomes back five letterwinners and has added eight talented newcomers.
Two juniors, point guard Elizabeth Burrows and forward Connie Myers, return to the starting lineup. Burrows dished out 92 assists in her first season as the starting point guard and averaged 5.5 points per game. She also made 78.6 percent of her free throws.
Myers averaged 11.3 ppg and connected on 55.1 percent of her shots from the field. The 5-foot-10 junior also averaged 5.3 rebounds per game and provided NKU with a powerful inside presence.
Liz did a nice job of running our offense, especially since it was her first year as a starter, Winstel said. Connie really played well early in the season, and were expecting her to step up even more this season.
Sophomore forward/center Sharell Snardon (9.9 ppg) emerged as one of the top freshmen in the nation by the end of last season, as evidenced by the fact she was named All-Tournament at the GLVC Tournament, the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Regional and the Elite Eight. A powerful rebounder and inside scorer, Snardons improvement from the start of the year to the final game was a key to the Norses NCAA Tournament run.
Sharell really made a name for herself late in the year, and she has the talent to be an outstanding player, Winstel said. The way she improved as the season progressed was a big factor in our success, and I expect her to again be a big-time player.
Senior wing player Jessica Brock (5.5 ppg) is a versatile performer who can rebound, pass, play defense and score. She will be a key contributor this season. Senior center Emily Phillips adds experience and could also be a factor this season.
Jess and Emily give us a lot of experience, and we will count on both of them to be key parts of the team, Winstel said. They have both helped us win a lot of games the past couple of years.
Those returning letterwinners will be joined by an impressive group of newcomers. Four freshmen - Karyn Creager, Karmen Graham, Quanita Hailey and Betsey Clark - could play key roles in 2003-04.
Creager, a 5-11 guard/forward, scored 1,379 career points at Patrick Henry High School and earned Ohio Division III All-State honors as a senior. Graham, a 6-1 post player, averaged 14.1 points as a senior at Kettering Fairmont High School and should give NKU a solid inside scorer.
Hailey was one of Cincinnatis top prep players as a senior two years ago at Colerain High School. She averaged 16.7 ppg as a senior. Clark earned All-City honors at McNicholas High School in Cincinnati last year after averaging 13.3 ppg.
The Norse also add talented transfers Nikki Perkins (Cleveland State), Sarah Woods (Presbyterian) and Julie Robbins (Augusta State) to the roster. Perkins is a quick point guard who started for Cleveland State, and she is expected to make immediate contributions.
Woods, a 5-9 forward and an excellent shooter, averaged 4.5 ppg last season at Presbyterian. Robbins played in 29 games at Augusta State and averaged 5.4 ppg.
We have some talented new players, and I think all of them could help us this season, Winstel said. They have to learn our system, but they have a lot of potential.
NKU will open against Nova Southeastern (Fla.) University on Nov. 20 in the Holiday Isle Classic at Tavernier, Fla. If the Norse defeat Nova Southeastern, a rematch with South Dakota State looms.
South Dakota State will meet the University of Nebraska-Kearney in the first round of the Holiday Isle Classic. If NKU and South Dakota State both win, they will meet in the tournament championship game on Nov. 22.