Western looks toward Oklahoma road trip

The No. 8 Griffons completed the home court sweep in a blowout fashion by beating Lindenwood 93-50 and Lincoln 82-51. Now they will hit the road to face the Northeastern State University RiverHawks and the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos. The last time Western met both Northeastern State and Central Oklahoma was at the Fieldhouse early in the season. The Griffons went on to dominate the RiverHawks with a 39 point 88-49 victory but would steal a win over the Bronchos by just eight points, with a score of 77-69. This time Western will face both teams on the road, beginning with Northeastern State. Assistant head coach Roger Smith believes that the 11th place MIAA team can be difficult to handle. “They’re a team that’s just scary,” Smith said. “They’re a team that, when they get going, they can light it up from the three-point line.” If the game comes down to three pointers, the RiverHawks will rely on guards Cailyn Long and Kylie Looney. The freshman lead their team in three-pointers made with 41 and 35 and are the third and fourth leading scorers on the team, respectively. The Griffons have their own threat beyond the arch in guard Sarafina Handy. Handy leads the team with 52 three-pointers followed by guards LaQuinta Jefferson and Dwanisha Tate with 20. Jefferson also leads the team in overall points with 475. Western continues their Oklahoma tour against the Bronchos, and knowing their past history this season, Smith knows the game will be a long fight to the end. “It was a battle the first time we played them. It will be a war when we go back there,” Smith said. Central Oklahoma currently sits at fifth in the MIAA and has already clinched a spot in the conference tournament, along with Western. The Bronchos play well at home with only three losses to accompany six wins, thanks in large part to their leading scorer, guard McKenzie Solberg. She scores 15.2 points per game on 45 percent shooting and is the only player on her team that averages double-digit points. Western has three players averaging in double digits, led by Jefferson with 22.6, Handy with 14.3 and forward Mili Koyamainavure with 11.8. The Griffons are still positioned at the top of the MIAA but are closely followed by No. 5 Fort Hays State. Each road game will be crucial for them to hold onto number one in the conference. Western faces Northeastern State on Thursday Feb. 11 at 5:30 p.m. and squares off against Central Oklahoma on Saturday Feb. 13 at 1:30 p.m.

Western defends conference lead at home

The Griffons have lost two of three coming into this week’s slate of games. After a big win over Fort Hays State, Western failed to defend their home court against Nebraska-Kearny and then lost a close one to Pittsburg State. After that two-game skid, the team got back to their winning ways Saturday in Joplin against Missouri Southern, taking down the Lions 71-70, giving the team their first win at Southern since 2008. The Griffons swept the season series against Southern, going 2-0 and winning by a combined three points. The team was ranked No. 5 in the NCAA Division II Top 25, but after suffering two losses the team fell to No. 9 in the poll. “It was a good win for us coming off of two losses,” head coach Rob Edmisson said. This week the Griffons take on two teams sitting near the bottom of the MIAA standings. Thursday they will battle the Lindenwood Lions at 5:30 p.m. at the Fieldhouse. The Griffons last played Lindenwood on Dec. 18, winning 79-77. The Lions are led by junior guard Kassidy Gengenbacher. Gengenbacher is third in the MIAA, averaging 18.8 points per game. Senior forward Miliakere Koyamainavure believes the Lindenwood offense starts and ends with Gengenbacher. “I feel like if we can slow her down, the entire offense will breakdown,” Koymainavure said. The Griffons will counter with LaQuinta Jefferson and her MIAA leading 22.6 points per game. “Offensively, if we push the ball down in transition we can score a lot,” Koymainavure said. The Griffons will have Friday off before welcoming Lincoln University to the Fieldhouse at 3 p.m. on Saturday. The Griffons dominated Lincoln in their first game this year, 85-62 and will hope for the same kind of success this weekend. Lincoln will be coming in after a victory against Northeastern State and are led by junior guard Hunter Yoakum. Guard Chelsea Dewey knows that they will be in for a battle on Saturday. “They’re still battling for spots, just like we’re battling,” said Dewey. “We just got to grind it out.” The Griffons will need victories against both teams to keep their lead atop the MIAA, with Fort Hayes sitting within half a game of them. Fort Hays will also be at home this week with games against Central Missouri and Southwest Baptist. “Seven conference games left, everything is tightening up,” Edmisson said. “This time of year everyone is tired and sore.”

Griffons stay perfect over break

The Griffons continued to climb up the national rankings, reaching fifth in the country. Over semester break, they stayed perfect with a 17-0 record. Western’s most recent victories came on the road against Washburn and No. 12 Emporia State. The Griffon defense held strong in all four quarters and did not allow the Ichabods to tie or gain the lead throughout the game, leading to a 69-56 win for Western. Although the lead was held throughout the entire game, it was not until the Griffons controlled the rebounds that head coach Rob Edmisson felt his team controlled the game. “Once we got the boards under control, then the game got under control,” Edmisson said. “That was a great win to win there, so I was pleased with that game and our kids’s intensity that they brought to it.” Next, the win streak was tested on the road against the Hornets in a tough game between two nationally ranked teams. Western held onto a slim lead until halfway through the first quarter when Emporia’s Kelly Moten made a layup to give her team a one-point 9-8 lead. From there, the Hornets increased their lead over the Griffons to five points as the teams headed into the second quarter with a score of 15-10. The second quarter held much of the same story, but in Western’s favor. The Griffons were able to fight back and take a one-point, 22-21 lead halfway through the quarter. The Hornets tied the game at 29 late in the quarter, but a couple late free throws made by guard Sarafina Handy gave Western a two-point, 31-29 lead going into halftime. The Griffons kept their foot on the gas offensively, and defensively were able to slow the Hornets down enough to keep their lead through the second half. Western gained a ten-point, 73-63 lead late in the forth quarter and secured a 73-64 victory once time expired. Guards LaQuinta Jefferson and Hand,y along with forward Mili Koyamainavure, lead Western in scoring with 19,16 and 12 points respectively. Defensively, guard Melia Richardson held the Hornets leading scorer Moten, who averages 16.8 points per game and just 2.3 turnovers per game, to only 12 points and forced her to commit seven turnovers. Edmisson knows that both teams played tough, making the win even sweeter. “It was just a high-level game from two good teams,” Edmisson said. “Both teams played well, we didn’t catch Emporia on a bad night and they didn’t catch us on a bad night, it was just a good game.” With the Griffons sitting in sole possession of first place in the MIAA with a 17-0 overall record and an 11-0 conference record, as well as holding the No. 5 spot in the nation, Edmisson has his team treating this part of the season as if it’s the NCAA Tournament. Right now, they are treating Thursday’s match-up against No. 3 Fort Hays as if it’s the Sweet 16 in order to stay focused on the ultimate goal. “You have to win six in a row when you get to the end of the season if you’re going to win a national championship,” Edmisson said. “I don’t know if that’s realistic, but that’s what we’re using as our guideline these next six games.” While it may be unrealistic to discuss a national championship at this point in the season, the word special has been tossed around to describe this undefeated team. For many people, special may be the perfect word to pin to the Griffons, but Edmisson realizes it can easily be taken away. “It’s so hard to define teams while you’re in the season. It’s so hard to stop and enjoy a part of it, especially when you have a couple big wins like that because specialness can get wiped out real quick,” Edmisson said. “You go on a three-game stretch this late and get beat on the road two or three times, or someone gets sick or injured and you drop from where you’re at, that special goes away real quick.” A nationally ranked opponent will again test Western as they take on the No. 3 Fort Hays Tigers at home on Thursday, Ja.n 21 at 5:30 p.m.    

Global influence

Zach Papenberg
[caption id="attachment_26263" align="alignnone" width="300"]Zach Papenberg Mili Koyamainavure[/caption] Moving to a different country, a different environment, leaving your family and playing a sport that you love are all a part of many international student-athletes' life. Coaches recruit all over the world to find the best talent. A lot of international students at Missouri Western can relate to the challenges that come with moving to a different country. Miliakere Koyamainavure, who goes by “Mili”, is a member of the Missouri Western women’s basketball team and is from Suva, Fiji. Three years ago, she made the decision to move to the United States to play basketball. She started her basketball career at a community college in Iowa at Iowa Central. Koyamainavure says that it was hard adjusting to the United States when she first came here. “It was hard at first, considering the time difference. It took me over three weeks to adjust to the time difference,” Koyamainavure said. “People moved fast, think fast and worked fast. The pace was fast and I had to try and keep up with it.” When asked what was her favorite part about living in the United States, she said the environment. “I really like the environment. Now that I’m here, I love it more than I thought I would,” Koyamainavure said. “The people are nice, the environment is different with the seasons, which I really enjoy because we don’t have that in Fiji. Lastly, basketball, I enjoy being around my teammates and playing competitive basketball.” Another member of the Griffon women’s basketball team, Julia Torres-Alves, is from Sao Paulo, Brazil. She first came to the United States to play basketball at Highland Community College. Torres-Alves says that she didn’t know what to expect when she first came to the United States. “When I first came to the United States, I was very afraid,” Torres-Alves said. “But, I knew it was for a good cause.” When asked about some challenges she faced while adjusting to the United States, she said communication was a big one. “My biggest challenge was the fact that I couldn't communicate and expressed myself like I was able to when I was home,” Torres-Alves said. “New culture, new people, new language, everything was pretty new for me.” Going to a different country and trying to figure out a language that you have never spoken can also be challenging. This was another task that Torres-Alves faced. “I didn’t know any English when I first got here, so I was very confused.” Torres-Alves said. “I'm still learning English today, every day I learn something new.” Some may ask, how do these international student athletes get to the United States? How does the recruiting process work? Assistant basketball coach for Missouri Western Aaron Coombs can help answer these questions. Coombs is familiar with the recruiting process and moving into a different country. He played professional basketball in France and Romania. When asked how he got some of his players that were from a different country throughout his coaching career, he said technology played a big role. “I basically get all international information from referrals,” Coombs said. “We get 10-15 emails a day about different international kids. All of them have links to film and player information.” Not only has technology played a role, but Coombs says that social media is big in getting these international athletes. “Over the years, Facebook and Twitter have been huge in the ability to keep in contact with international scouts and international kids.” After playing professional basketball in another country himself, Coombs can also relate to the athletes and adjusting to another culture. “Adjusting to another culture was difficult. I had to get used to two-hour lunch breaks during the day, where every store except restaurants closed at 7 pm,” Coombs said. “Learning how to grocery shop for myself was interesting also, I didn’t know where anything was.” Moving to a different country comes with a lot of challenges. These international student athletes leave their family and move to a different country without knowing the languages, culture and other difficult tasks.

Griffons ‘Kobe’ versus Bearcats

Zach Papenberg
[caption id="attachment_26263" align="alignnone" width="300"]Zach Papenberg Mili Koyamainavure[/caption] Missouri Western takes a No. 17 national ranking into its biggest weekend of the young season. They host undefeated Pittsburg State on Thursday, before welcoming the 7-1 Missouri Southern Lions to the MWSU Fieldhouse on Saturday. “It is going to be a tough week at the Fieldhouse,” head coach Rob Edmisson said. “We hope to have a lot of people come out and support the kids. It is going to be an exciting week of basketball.” The Griffons would not be sitting with a clean record at 7-0 if it were not for the team’s late-game heroics in last Saturday’s 93-87 victory over Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Mo. “The (Southwest Baptist) game on Saturday afternoon was, at best, chaotic,” Edmissoin said. “There were 68 fouls called.” The game was tightly called from start to finish and had very little rhythm. Western had major foul concerns with LaQuinta Jefferson, Sarafina Handy, Chelsea Dewey, Julia Torres-Alves, Mhykeah Baez, Mili Koyamainavure and Sefulu Faavae, all picking up at least four fouls. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a group of young ladies than I was on Saturday afternoon with the adversity that came in that game,” Edmisson said. “Our kids three different times… could have folded it in and they didn’t.” The foul trouble caused Western to play carefully and took them out of their free-flowing game. Until the fourth quarter started and everything changed. “(Our kids) just knew it was a matter of time and hopefully the minutes didn’t run out before we made our run,” Edmisson said. With 8:07 showing on the clock, Western trailed 79-66 and all signs pointed to the first loss of the season for Edmisson’s club. “I told the kids at halftime, we were down by 10, I said, ‘Guys, I’d much rather learn some stuff today with a win than learn with a loss.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, coach, we got it.’” When times get tough – as they rarely have this season for the Griffons in their early season schedule  – the team turns to it’s All-American candidate LaQuinta Jefferson. Jefferson got things started with a jumper to cut the lead to 11. “LaQuinta took that game on her shoulders,” Edmisson said. “We called a couple plays and she ‘Kobe’d’ it. She waved off the play and went on her own, asked for the ball and waved everyone out of the way. “Sometimes that’s what a big-time player has to do, and that’s what she is. It is nice to have her at the end of the game be like, ‘O.K., I’m going to put it on my shoulders.” After a trio of Western free throws, Jefferson drove the lane a put in a lay-up that cut the margin to six. Southwest Baptist answered with its own layup. The Western bench then got into the action though and Dwanisha Tate – fresh into the contest – knocked down a confidence 3-point jumper and the lead was down to five with 4:38 remaining. Southwest Baptist answered with another layup to bump the score to seven, but now the Griffons were rolling and once that happens, they are tough to stop. Jefferson struck with a quick layup of the Bearcat make. Then she stole the ball from the Bearcat’s Ashlee Pitts and Baez converted on the other end to make it a three-point game. Two possessions later, Bearcat star Dilonna Johnson committed an offensive foul and fouled out. Johnson finished with the team lead in the three major offensive categories with 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Now with three minutes remaining, she was gone. Now the Griffons smelled blood. Baez put her own miss in and cut the lead to a single point 18 seconds later. Then the person that started the comeback completed it. A Jefferson lay-up gave the Griffons the lead 2:10 left in the game. The Bearcats didn’t give up as they hit a pair of free throws to retake the advantage with 1:26 left. Dewey gave the Griffons the lead back at 86-85 with a jumper with 1:19 left. Koyamainavure added a lay-in with just over a minute left. Jefferson, Dewey and Tate combined go 5 of 6 from the foul line to seal the Griffon win. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of that last eight minutes,” Edmisson said. Now after proving to themselves that they can win a tight game with the odds stacked against them, Western enters the biggest week of their year with the most confidence they have had all year.