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The Lady Mountaineers at the 2006 NAIA-II Tournament

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The Lady Mountaineers at the 2006 NAIA-II Tournament
Bunky Harkleroad
Summer Smith
Season Recap
2005-2006 Lady Mountaineers
March 8
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Looking Back with the 2005-06 Seniors

 

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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 AT THE 2006 NAIA-II TOURNAMENT

The 2005-06 Lady Mountaineers of Berea College have earned their first-ever bid to the NAIA Div-II national tournament. Here is an overview of what they have accomplished.

They are the champions of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC).

Coach Bunky Harkleroad was voted the KIAC Coach of the Year for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons.

Berea’s record is 26-5. They have won their last 16 games. The 26 victories and 16 consecutive victories are new school records.

Berea’s style of play is characterized by frequent mass substitutions, a fast pace, pressure defense, and 3-point shooting.

Berea features an All-America candidate in junior forward Rebecca May, who has set a new NAIA Div-II record for 3-pointers made in a season (157). May has been scoring at a rate of 38 points per 40 minutes played.

Because Coach Harkleroad wants all of his 14 players to play significant minutes in every game, Berea employs frequent mass substitutions. Only May and senior point guard Crystal Davis average as many as 20 minutes per game (22 and 21, respectively.) In evaluating individual player performance, per-40-minute averages are more meaningful than per-game averages.

Berea leads the NAIA in scoring, averaging 102 points per game. Over the last 3 seasons, the team has set many national scoring records.

Berea averages 95 shots per game, of which over half are from 3-point range.

Berea grants no athletic scholarships. Every athlete is a walk-on.

Athletes, like all Berea students, are obligated to work at college jobs.

BUNKY HARKLEROAD, Head Coach

Entering the NAIA Div-II national tournament, Bunky Harkleroad is completing his sixth season as head coach of the Berea College women’s basketball program. His overall record is 110-59 (.651). During Coach Harkleroad’s tenure the women’s basketball program has accomplished a great deal, and a new level of excitement surrounds the program.

In 2003-04 Coach Harkleroad introduced a new style of basketball to Kentucky, a vigorous, attacking style based on pressure defense, a fast-breaking, three-point shooting offense, and fearless offensive rebounding. The rest is history. The Lady Mountaineers have broken 26 NAIA national scoring records, including some of their own, and led the nation in scoring (at all levels of women’s college basketball) in three consecutive campaigns.

“At Berea we have attempted to become the most exciting basketball program around,” he says. “Our goals are to include as many student athletes as possible, to make the experience fun for our student athletes, and to be competitive on the national NAIA level. We want to develop outstanding camaraderie and team chemistry while winning games and entertaining our fans.”

Following the 2005-2006 Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, Coach Harkleroad was voted KIAC Coach of the Year for the fourth time in the last five seasons. This year’s Lady Mountaineers have won 26 games and lost just 5, capturing the KIAC regular season title outright while setting a school record for victories for the third year in a row. That was just one of the 18 Berea College team records that have fallen in the last half decade, along with 13 individual player records. In the same span 12 Lady Mountaineers have been named all-KIAC.

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 eight years. His wife Shan and their three children, Tory (11), Tahni (10), and Ty (7), reside in Berea. Tahni is currently the Lady Mounties top recruit for the class of 2013-2014.

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SUMMER SMITH, Assistant Coach

When Summer Smith transferred to Berea in 2002 after playing two years at Saint Catharine College, Berea fans had no idea what they were getting. If her junior year was a struggle, her senior year was a revelation. Smith played a major role in implementing Berea’s new system and stepped forward as the vibrant, charismatic performer everyone hoped she would be.

Smith intends to pursue a career in coaching. Last season, with her athletic eligibility expired, she served as Berea’s student assistant coach while completing her undergraduate degree in physical education. In 2005-06 she assumed the number two position on the coaching staff.

Coach Smith helps to develop the skills of both the post and the perimeter players while assisting with practice, conditioning, game management, scouting, and recruiting. According to Head Coach Bunky Harkleroad, “Coach Smith has a solid understanding of both the mental and the physical aspects of the game of basketball, and she understands the Berea system inside and out. She knows what it takes to win and knows how to communicate.”

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2005-06 SEASON RECAP

The 2004-05 Lady Mountaineers set a school record for victories for the second season in a row. But Coach Bunky Harkleroad began 2005-06 with doubts about whether this year’s team could equal that record. He’d lost 6 players from that 22-6 team: a redshirt, an academic casualty, and four graduating seniors, including Ashley Miller, Berea’s all-time leading rebounder. To replace them he had 5 freshmen and Brittany Carr, the former points-scored recordholder who’d sat out 2004-05. But the freshmen struggled to learn Berea’s system, and Carr’s season was lost after just 6 games when she tore an ACL.

The Lady Mountaineers were trounced by tough Virginia-Wise before a large Homecoming crowd at Berea in their season opener. Their next game, a much heralded matchup between Berea and another “system” team, Olivet Nazarene, at the Illinois school’s “Run and Gun Classic,” resulted in a humiliating 112-72 blowout loss of a game that Berea led by 8 points at the half. After a night of soul-searching, the team regained some of its self-respect by outpointing Bethel (IN) the following day.

Following 7 consecutive victories, Berea suffered two excruciating losses at Defiance College’s tournament in mid-December. With the Lady Mountaineers trailing by a point in the closing seconds of the opener against Ohio Northern, Berea’s Crystal Davis drove to the hoop, only to be whistled for an offensive foul as the clock expired. The next day they dropped another close one, to the host school in overtime. It was time to regroup.

Following Christmas break, the team swept King College’s tournament and defeated Virginia Intermont at home in their final nonconference game. That set the stage for Berea’s first confrontation with archrival Bethel College at the Tennessee school’s gym. Bethel, which would later be ranked as high as #15, defeated the Lady Mountaineers decisively, 101-83.

Berea didn’t lose again. During its run of 13 consecutive conference wins the team suffered just one scare, to dangerous Indiana-Southeast at Berea. In an eerie echo of the Ohio Northern game, Berea once again trailed by a point, with possession of the ball, in the finals seconds. Berea called a timeout, intending to insert Candy Walls into the game. But Walls didn’t make it to the scorer’s table in time, and play resumed without the desired substitution. IUS deflected the ball out of bounds near the Berea basket with just 1.5 ticks on the clock. Walls was waved in, Davis found her on the inbounds pass, and the ever-aggressive freshman converted a layup at the buzzer.

In February the Lady Mountaineers cracked the Top 25 for the first time. Berea’s largest home crowd of the season packed the Seabury Center to witness the team’s Senior Day and final conference game. This was their hotly anticipated rematch with Bethel, who were undefeated in the KIAC. Berea’s 110-89 triumph squared the series, and Berea was awarded the KIAC championship based on point differential in the two games.

As everyone expected, Berea and Bethel met once again in the KIAC tournament final. Berea prevailed, gaining their 16th consecutive victory (a new school record) and an automatic bid to the NAIA Div-II national tournament in Sioux City.

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THE 2005-2006 BEREA COLLEGE LADY MOUNTAINEERS

NUM
 
NAME
CLASS
HT
 
HOMETOWN
   
 
1
 
Lowe, Jenna
FR
5-7
 
Carrollton, KY
2
 
Walls, Candy
FR
5-6
 
Stanton, KY
3
 
Watkins, De-An
JR
5-5
 
Athens, AL
10
 
Gray, LaShondra
FR
5-9
 
Shelbyville, KY
13
 
Davis, Crystal
SR
5-5
 
Wilmington, OH
20
 
Engle, Jessica
SO
5-7
 
Berea, KY
21
 
Bosley, LaQuesha
SO
5-8
 
Richmond, KY
22
 
Crump, Ashlee
SR
5-7
 
Lexington, KY
23
 
Hughes, Sarah
FR
5-9
 
London, KY
24
 
May, Rebecca
JR
5-9
 
Waynesburg, KY
30
 
Klee, Rebekah
SO
5-7
 
Mays Lick, KY
33
 
Diep, Heidi
FR
5-1
 
Seattle, WA
34
 
Wallace, Lauren
SR
6-0
 
Madisonville, KY
40
 
Carr, Brittany
SR
5-9
 
Sand Gap, Kentucky
45
 
Gambrel, Toccara
JR
6-2
 
Danville, KY

Coach: Bunky Harkleroad
Assistant: Summer Smith
Assistant: Tom Harkleroad
Student Assistant: Mike Merriman

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TOURNAMENT DIARY: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8

The NAIA Div-II women's basketball tournament began today. As you probably know by now, Berea's KIAC rival Bethel College of Tennessee was eliminated in first round play. The Lady Mountaineers will open the second day of play at 0830 CST tomorrow morning.

I spoke to Chris Varney, the announcer who will be doing the broadcast commentary for Berea's game. He was pronouncing the school's name “Buh-RAY-ah” (to rhyme with La Brea, as if we had emerged from the California tar pits) until I was able to set him straight. I filled him in about the type of school Berea is and the style of play he’s going to see. I think he'll do a good job describing what I hope will be the most exciting game of the tournament so far, and I hope he'll pass along some information about Berea College's unique mission.

Varney's regular gig is at KSCJ in Sioux City. He's the baseball voice of the Sioux City Explorers (Northern League) and does high school basketball and other sports.

The Lady Mountaineers were the first team (out of perhaps 6 that participated) on the spot to assist at a Special Olympics clinic sponsored by the Diocese of Sioux City Tuesday morning. The team held good practices Tuesday and Wednesday, and they made a radiant showing at the Banquet of Champions Tuesday night. Everywhere Anne and I go in Sioux City (and believe me, we are all over this town), we find that people are excited about the tournament and about the Berea team in particular. They are eager to learn more about Berea College, and we've been happy to oblige.

Every team is sponsored by a local business. I think Berea scored the best sponsor of all, Wells Dairy, which produces Blue Bunny Ice Cream at one of the largest ice cream manufacturing plants in the world in Le Mars, Iowa, just north of here. The Blue Bunny people have invited the Berea team and its coaches to a deluxe tour of the plant AND ice cream tasting Thursday afternoon, after the conclusion of Berea's game. Coach Bunky Harkleroad said, “Win or lose, we will eat ice cream tomorrow!” His wife and three kids arrived today. Everyone is looking forward to a day of hot competition, followed by cool refreshment, on Thursday.

Anne and I had lunch today at Green Gables, a Sioux City institution. Their dessert specialty is a world-famous hot fudge sundae. Anne and I saved room for one, and when it arrived I asked, “Is that Blue Bunny ice cream?” The waitress replied, “You better believe it!” And that hot fudge sundae was the best I've ever tasted.

The Tyson Events Center's arena is perfect for basketball, beautifully lit, with excellent sightlines and comfortable seating. Fan interest is high, and 3 of the 4 games I watched Wednesday were exciting and drama-filled. Maine-Fort Kent was overmatched against #1 Cedarville, but they're a great bunch of kids (staying at the Holiday Inn with us).

This atmosphere is all new to our players, but it looks to me like they are ready to get out there and “represent BC!” The Saints of Aquinas College will be the toughest opponent Berea has faced this season, but I know Berea is capable of beating them if the Lady Mountaineers can force tempo and some shots fall.

Tonight, the Parade of Champions at the arena, featuring all 32 teams in an impressive ceremony.

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TOURNAMENT DIARY: THURSDAY, MARCH 9

After ascending two steep summits, the KIAC regular season championship and the KIAC tournament championship, the Lady Mountaineers of Berea College found a higher peak looming, one that would prove insurmountable. Berea succumbed to the Saints of Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI) 84-53 in the opening round of the NAIA Div-II tournament Thursday morning in Sioux City, Iowa.

At the team's final practice Wednesday, Berea coach Bunky Harkleroad asked his team to spread the floor, get their primary shooters open, and share the basketball. They did all of these things, but when their shots didn't fall, Berea wasn't able to rebound their misses often enough to produce more than 53 points, almost 50 below their per-game average and 19 below their previous low effort against Olivet Nazarene in November.

First half action was so furious that statisticians' frantic efforts to keep up blew a transformer, plunging Sioux City's entire downtown business district into darkness for 30 minutes. Berea trailed 21-12 at this unintended break and wasn't able to regroup. Aquinas pushed their lead to 34-20 at the half, and then outplayed Berea again in the second stanza.

The Saints' star center, Jackie Braspenninx, rose to the occasion with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 30 minutes. On defense, Braspenninx shut down Berea's inside game while her teammates defended the perimeter tenaciously. Berea got shots off (87 total, 46 from behind the arc), but not many of them were open looks. The Lady Mountaineers shot just 24% overall and sank only 9 threes. The cold seeping up from beneath the floor (which is laid atop the Sioux City Musketeers hockey team's perpetual ice) seemed to affect Berea's shooting from every distance and angle. The Lady Mountaineers made only 2 of the 8 free throws they attempted.

After a record-breaking season that produced 26 victories, Berea's bubble burst with a loud pop. “So much of our game is offense,” noted guard Jenna Lowe, “and our offense just wasn't working for us. Aquinas did a good job covering our primary shooters.”

“Aquinas is big and physical,” Harkleroad said after the game. “We had a hard time getting to the glass. That might not have mattered so much if we hadn't had such a hard time hitting the basket.”

“Tournament experience is so valuable,” Harkleroad added. “We need to look at this game as a learning opportunity. We have to look at the difference between us and the players who'll be playing in the second round. What are those teams doing that we're not? We'll figure that out, and when we do we'll learn and get better.”

For a team that prizes balanced scoring, forward LaShondra Gray was Berea's only hot hand. With 17 points, Gray was the only Lady Mountaineer in double figures. Senior point guard Crystal Davis finished the season with 168 assists, a new school record. Her 9 rebounds brought her career total to 508, to accompany her school record 556 career assists.

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TOURNAMENT DIARY: MONDAY, MARCH 13

It's no exaggeration to say that the Lady Mountaineers were embarrassed by their performance against Aquinas. Embarrassment hurts, but it is not a bad thing if it stimulates personal growth. Every athletic contest is a battle of will as well as a battle of skill. Aquinas imposed its will upon Berea. But Berea's players are intelligent and thoughtful, and they have a coach who is a student of basketball. What they learned in Sioux City will help them later.

The truly elite athlete is the one who can control her emotions when the pressure is on. In the rarified air of the national tournament, too many Berea players brought emotions onto the court that were too intense to control. They'd had no practice at it, no experience with national tournament play.

Berea was NOT the only team this happened to. Many teams played beneath the level of skill that got them there, with lots of mistakes, spaceouts, and unforced turnovers. Aquinas is a very good team, but no better than Bethel, a team Berea defeated twice in 8 days. But at the tournament Aquinas played with more poise and beat us to the ball again and again. Aquinas guard Ashley Heuvelman, whom, in my haste, I forgot to mention in my game story, was the true star of that game, a genuine big-time player who rose to the occasion at both ends of the court. There was no team in the tournament that Heuvelman couldn't start for. She brings an amazing combination of skill, savvy, poise, and toughness.

Berea has one full-blown star (Rebecca May), a potential star in LaShondra Gray, and 12 rather ordinary supporting players who are great kids but not gifted with an abundance of athletic talent. The System does not and cannot work unless a team's stars are willing to trade minutes for victories, and May is that type of human being. On this occasion her shooting eye deserted her. That has happened before, but when it has happened Berea's other shooters have hit clutch 3-pointers to compensate, and that didn't happen against Aquinas.

Unnecessary fouls, off-target shooting, slow reactions, slow legs and arms... those things add up to a disappointing exhibition of inadequate body and mind control, produced by that type of anxiety commonly termed “stage fright.” Berea, tested for the first time on the national level, did not pass the test.

It now seems obvious that the NAIA officials who designed the brackets matched Berea deliberately against Aquinas to create interest in an “offense versus defense” confrontation. They could have matched #5 Berea against a conventional #4 like MidAmerican Nazarene, whose game against St Mary I watched. Berea could have beaten that team by 10 points even playing as far below their best game as they did in Sioux City! In fact, Berea could have played at that level and still defeated MANY teams I saw in the tournament.... but all those teams were low seeds who, like Berea, were eliminated in the first round. Berea earned the right to be in the tournament, but they did not earn the right to advance. So be it!

Here's what I believe: no matter how good you are, there is someone out there who is better than you, and no matter how bad you are, there is someone out there who is worse than you. Thirty-one of the 32 teams in Sioux City will end their season with a loss. The Berea players, good-character kids who are genuine student-athletes, have nothing to be ashamed of. When they look back on the season, I hope they will recall the exhilarating sense of pride they felt when they defeated Bethel in the regular season final and again in the tournament final.

It must be remembered that the 2005-06 Lady Mountaineers took this program to places it had never been before. Before this season, Berea had never PLAYED in the KIAC tournament final, and this year's team not only played in it but won it, and won it decisively. They won more games than any Berea women's team had won before. And NOW they have the national tournament experience that is so tremendously important. Even losing as badly as they did afforded them a priceless opportunity for reflection and personal growth. If Berea can recruit just one good point guard to replace graduating Crystal Davis, I like their chances to return to Sioux City in 2007.

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EPILOGUE: LOOKING BACK WITH THE 2005-06 SENIORS

Brittany Carr: I’m glad I chose Berea, because I don't think there is anywhere else I could have received the kind of education, in and out of the classroom, that I did here. Almost every class I took taught me something of significance, and the work-study program showed me how important it is to be reliable and responsible.

Being a student-athlete played a huge role in my life at Berea. I’ll always remember the places I traveled, the people I met, and the friendships I built. Coach Harkleroad and all those who were involved with the Lady Mountaineers basketball program since my freshman year were always there when I needed them on or off the court, in season or out, on the team or not. Even though I sat out my junior year and tore my ACL as a senior, I’m glad I was able to be a part of such an extraordinary and dynamic organization. Anyone who doesn't give Berea a chance is missing out on something special, especially if she has the opportunity to play a sport. That is an experience that can't be described, only lived.

Ashlee Crump: My experience as a student-athlete was great! There were hard times with classes, work, and basketball, but it all paid off in the end. I learned to be responsible, gained friendships, and got a couple of championships. I cannot express my happiness enough that Berea gave me, a common person, the opportunity to attain uncommon results.

My decision to come to Berea was based on academics, because I had not heard much about the women’s basketball program. I did not know that our team would accomplish as much as it did in the four years I was here, but I am glad I made the decision to be a part of the team. We went from “Berea Who?” to being in newspapers and on television, from few fans to full crowds. We broke school and national records and finally made it to the national championship tournament.

When I came to Berea I was a shy girl who rarely spoke. I left Berea a woman. I went from a shy girl to a captain of a team that made history. I hope to keep all the friendships I made with my teammates, because we became more like family than friends.

Crystal Davis: I loved our run-and-gun system and the freedom it gave us. It was never boring. I loved winning games and championships and setting records. I loved improving my knowledge of the game and playing with excellent girls, different individuals. I didn’t want to be on a team where just a few play and the rest don’t. In our system that didn’t happen, couldn’t happen.

Being the main point guard was a lot of responsibility. I was challenged big-time. Athletics has helped me a lot. I’m more mature, and I’ve learned to manage my time. I’ve also learned that even when you find yourself in a situation you don’t really like, you can tough it through and deal with it and be successful no matter what. It was worth it.

Lauren Wallace: When you play a sport for many years, it becomes a big and important part of your life. Playing for Berea College was the most challenging part of my basketball career, but being a student-athlete at Berea made me a better person. I gained confidence and self-esteem.

When I arrived at Berea I did not know what to expect or how I expected things to go. Halfway through my first season I knew I had to take things seriously, because Bunky wanted to try something new with us. He taught us the basics of our new system, and by the end of my senior year we had perfected it. Once we made it to the national tournament, I felt like a dream had come true. The girls were more than just my friends – they were my family. I could not have asked for a better team or better coaches.

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