Women’s hoops starts season 2-0

Western women’s basketball has begun their season at 2-0, despite not having the services of All-American candidate LaQuinta Jefferson. “We accomplished what we wanted to do,” head coach Rob Edmisson said. “Winning two games on the road is a good thing for us.” Jefferson was forced to miss the first two games of the season due to a family loss. Last season, the star wing averaged over 20 points per game. In the opener Friday against Southwest Minnesota State, the team rolled to a 32-point victory to open the season. The Griffons won 93-61. In Jefferson’s absence, last season’s second leading scorer Sarafina Handy stepped up and led the team in scoring with 26 points. “Just had to come out and work on what you’ve doing in practice and put it into the game,” Handy said. The sharpshooter was 11-of-12 from the field and 3-of-8 from beyond the arc. She also contributed five steals. Julia Torres-Alves made her Griffon debut against SW Minnesota State and did not disappoint. The forward netted 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. “She was big for us,” Handy said. “Just showing that she can score… takes pressure off some of the outside scorers.” The 6-3 sophomore was able to display her diverse skill-set by canning two of her four 3-point attempts. She also led the team with nine rebounds. “I just relaxed and tried to do the right thing and it worked out,” Torres-Alves said. Torres-Alves picked up where she left off in the Griffons’ 89-80 victory in their next game. She led the team with 18 points against Upper Iowa. “We were getting high-quality point production from Julia,” Edmisson said. “That is something we haven’t had in the post in the last couple years.” Her shooting was once again on point, as she went 8-of-12 from the field, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range. She had eight rebounds in the contest. Mili Koyamainavure added 17 points and 10 boards as she recorded the first Griffon double-double of the young season. “She can compete against bigger players in the post or take them off the dribble,” Handy said. Now, the Griffons put their undefeated record on the line against Minnesota State in the Western home opener on Thursday. “We got the wins, but we weren’t satisfied with it,” Handy said. The 6 p.m. tipoff will also mark the season debut for Jefferson, as she has been back in St. Joseph and practicing all week.

Griffons prepared to make jump in 2015

Having the best player on the court in a game is not a guarantee of victory or anything like that, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. For head coach Rob Edmisson and the Missouri Western women’s basketball program, they will likely have that built-in advantage every time they take the court this season. “It's good to have expectations,” Edmisson said. “Expectations are a sign that your program is getting better.” Senior LaQuinta Jefferson in getting preseason All-American consideration from many national media outlets following her performance last season, where she averaged over 20 points per game. “She’s tremendously gifted offensively,” Edmisson said. “She’s a guard that can step out and shoot threes, and she can drive and post up.” The 6-0 wing will be looked on to lead a Griffon team that has raised its expectations from just a year ago. “More than anything, it's her heart and passion for the game,” senior Sarafina Handy said. “I’ve seen a lot of skill players, but somebody with the competitiveness, heart and passion for the game, that make her stand above the rest." Jefferson is not the only player back for the Griffons that has experienced success in the MIAA. Missouri Western returns five players with starting experience from a year ago. Leading the way in of starting experience is point guard Chelsea Dewey. Dewey is the only Griffon to start all 27 games last season and is a player Edmisson has learned to rely on. “As gifted as (Jefferson) is it all starts and ends with your point guards,” Edmisson said. “So, having Dewey is huge for us, because I think she’s one of the better point guards in the league.” The junior floor general racked up over 100 assists last season and scored 7.4 points per game. That average was the fourth highest on the team last year, but could rise significantly this season. “She can also be a scorer,” Handy said. “I’ve told her many times that she’s got the looks and she can take them.” Jefferson and Dewey’s running mate in the backcourt, Handy, also returns to the fold as Western’s shooting guard. Handy was the second-leading scorer last year and will be counted to duplicate that again this season. Handy averaged 13 points per game and shoot 42 percent from beyond the three-point arch. Her shooting prowess makes her a valuable weapon to compliment Jefferson and Dewey’s dribble-drive and passing ability. “It makes it so much fun (playing with Jefferson and Handy),” Dewey said. “You can let the ball go and it has a 95 percent chance of going in.” Adding to the Griffons’ outstanding array of passing threats is forward Miliakere Koyamainavure. “One of the strengths of this team is we are a great passing team,” Edmisson said. Koyamainavure lines up for the Griffons as their power forward, despite only standing 5-9. She is the Griffons most versatile option. “(Koyamainavure) is such a great ball handler and driver, she’s really hard to guard for other people in the league,” Edmisson said. She finished second on the team in assists last year, first in rebounding and third in scoring. With the team playing a small-ball line-up, that puts even more pressure on Mhykeah Baez. Baez will likely be the fifth starter this season after starting 14 games last season. The 6-1 post player is the perfect role player to fit with the explosive Griffon backcourt. She offers the athleticism to run the floor, while also having the size to be the anchor for the defense. “She really allows us to run, she can run as fast as any of our guards,” Edmisson said. With those five starters in place, the task for Edmisson this offseason was to build a bench capable of fitting with his core group. He accomplished that with a variety of recruiting strategies. “The new players, the good thing about them is there is no drop in the level of play,” Handy said. Edmisson brought in two freshmen and three transfers. One of the freshmen the team added is its second player from the Fijian Islands with Leba Korovou. “Leba brings size and presence that we desperately need in the post,” Edmisson said. The other freshman had a lot less distance to travel. Melia Richardson joins the team after playing her high school ball in Cameron, Missouri. Richardson provides the team with even more of a speed element, but may be limited early as she recovers from an ACL injury she suffered her senior season in high school. “She plays a style of play that is so aggressive,” Edmisson said. “If you just look at her physically, you can tell she’s put a lot of time in in the weightroom.” Julia Torres-Alves is a transfer from Highland (Kan.) CC and gives the team some size in the paint at 6-3. Dwanisha Tate represents the team’s primary wing backup and will provide even more athleticism off the bench. “Tate gives use another offensive weapon,” Edmisson said. Sefula Faavae rounds out the transfer class and, after transferring in from Arizona Western, should provide the team with even more backcourt depth. The team has the talent to shoot high in 2015 and they aren’t afraid to display that confidence. “Our main goal is to win the conference championship,” Handy said.

Continuing family tradition

Family and sports seem to go hand-in-hand, and that is no different for Griffon basketball players and Fiji natives, Mili and Mataika Koyamainavure. At a young age, the siblings were surrounded by basketball through their family's neighborhood team, the Davui Magics, or even watching their aunt coach the Fiji National under-20 team. These experiences created lasting memories, explained Mataika. “Me and my sister would follow them [my family] around wherever they went and played when we were little kids,” Mataika said. “While they were playing, I was like four and my sister would have been five, we would be on the side of the court just bouncing and playing. We would run onto the court and they would have to stop the game and chase us off. I can still remember that.” The memories led to a love of basketball that the whole family shares according to Mili. "My brother and I both made our debut in 2010 for our National Under-20 team and that was pretty special," Mili said. “Not only do I respect and love the game, but my brother and I are continuing our family tradition in the sport.” The siblings' passion for the sport turned into collegiate talent when they both began their college careers at junior colleges in Iowa. Mili and Mataika had plans to play for the same school in Iowa, but when that fell through, Mili attended Iowa Central Community College and Mataika went to Southwestern Community College. “At that time, the rule was only to allow a certain amount of international players and there had been three of us at Iowa Central,” Mili said. “So, the coach contacted the head coach at Southwestern so my brother could still play here in the U.S.” Even though Mili and Mataika had to go their separate ways, they both found success at their schools. Mili is now ranked No. 12 in points in Iowa Central history with 892, as well as ranked No. 9 all-time for points in a season with 545. At Southwestern, Mataika was named 2nd Team All-Region in his sophomore season, scoring 426 points and averaging 12.9 points per game. Although their original plan to play at the same school did not work out the first time, they would have another chance at Western. Mili transferred to Western following her last year at Iowa Central. The transfer seemed to be the perfect fit to what she was looking for. "I knew whatever school I was going to end up in, I had to work hard for my spot on the team," Mili said. "On my official visit to Missouri Western, it felt like the right place for me. I loved the girls that were on the team that took me on my visit and the school has a good business program, which is what I'm going into." After Mili finished her first season as a Griffon, and Mataika finished his last season at Southwestern, head coach Brett Weiberg recruited Mataika. “I had known about him because one of his teammates actually sent us film,” Weiberg said. “I put two and two together with coach [Rob] Edmisson and when he said Mili’s brother is at Southwest Iowa, I went back and looked at the film and thought hey, this young man is not bad. I thought he had great hands, he was not afraid of his physicality, he's a good passer and he has a good touch from 15 feet and in.” After a visit, Mataika chose to come to Western because of the team and the opportunity to learn from assistant coach Aaron Coombs. "Our assistant coach, coach Coombs, is one of the reasons why I chose to come here because he played my position, played DI and played professional so I really want to follow in those footsteps," Mataika said. "My dream is to play another five years after Western professionally and I know he'll prepare me for professional if I want to play." Knowing that he would be able to represent the school alongside Mili also played a major factor in Mataika’s decision. “It was one of the big reasons why I chose to come here, because my sister is here,” Mataika said. “It’s exciting, I can’t wait. When people start realizing that there is a brother and sister playing for our school, it’s exciting.” Once Mili knew her brother’s decision, she was happy to finally get the chance to play the game that they love at the same school. “I have a really tight bond with my siblings and it has been a hard four years. Not being able to share any of my collegiate career with my family, especially with my parents has been the hardest,” Mili said. “When he [Mataika] decided to come here, I was so excited considering he had other schools recruiting him. I love the fact that I am able to share this experience with him and we can’t be thankful enough to Missouri Western and the coaches for the opportunity.” Weiberg also understands the importance of reuniting Mataika and Mili. “I think it’s very nice for him to have, if nothing else, off the floor. On the floor, nothing changes. We coach him the same, but it’s just a blessing for him off the floor to have family,” Weiberg said. “He’s halfway around the world almost, but yet he has his sister right here and that they can see each other every day, I think it just helps at the end.” Now that the siblings have been brought back together, they have their mindset on preparing for the upcoming season. Mili is working towards having a successful senior season and is confident that she can end her career at Western on a high note. “We have a very good team this year. We have all our returners back and we have some very talented new players,” Mili said. “The difference between this season and last is that, this year, the expectations are higher and we have another shot at achieving our goal. Then again, I feel that now that we [returners] have been through the program once and experienced how tough our conference is, there shouldn't be any excuses  but, we will take one game as it comes." Mataika has been getting to know his new team while gearing up for his first game at the Division-II level. “For the first week, we [the team] got to know each other and the second week it was like we knew each other forever, we’re brothers,” Mataika said. "It's intense, in practice we get after it and I've gotten some minor injuries because of the contact but it's worth it. I think I’ll be nervous and excited for the first game, because it’ll be the first at another level. I’m just going to compete, help the team be successful and have fun at the same time.” Mili will begin her senior year as the Griffon women open up their season against the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs in the SMSU classic on Friday, Nov. 13. Mataika will make his Western debut as the Griffon men open their season at home against the Wayne State Wildcats in the Hillyard Tip-Off Classic on Friday, Nov. 13.

2015 Hall of Fame class has left its mark on current teams

Griffons Nicole Lindsey-Collier, Eric Walker and Amy Beverly are inducted into Hall of Fame. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor
[caption id="attachment_25615" align="alignnone" width="300"]Griffons Nicole Lindsey-Collier, Eric Walker and Amy Beverly are inducted into Hall of Fame. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor Griffons Nicole Lindsey-Collier, Eric Walker and Amy Beverly are inducted into Hall of Fame. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor[/caption] Missouri Western has inducted three more former student-athletes into their Hall of Fame. Amy Beverly, Nicole Lindsey-Collier and Eric “Ebo” Walker make up the 2015 class. They were inducted on Friday evening, before receiving their Hall of Fame rings at halftime of the Western’s 26-21 win over Fort Hays State. Eric “Ebo” Walker, Football (1999-2002) Walker anchored the Griffon defense early in the Jerry Partridge era of Missouri Western football. After a pair of 5-6 seasons to begin the Partridge era, Walker’s 1999 squad went 7-4 and began a run of Griffon success that resulted in only one losing season in the next 16 season. The linebacker’s personal accomplishments include leading the team in tackles each of his final three season’s in the black and gold. His career tackles record of 416 still stands as a Griffon record. “It takes a lot to make that many tackles,” Walker said. “It was something I was striving for from the time I came in.” It is not his tackling ability that left the biggest mark on the program according to Partridge though. “I give Ebo a lot of credit for ‘The Griffon Way,’ of doing things for football.” Partridge said. “Ebo was one of the very first leaders we had.” According to Partridge, Walker’s attitude and leadership were what made him a Hall of Famer. “He had that great tempo and attitude. He didn’t look like much, wasn’t very fast or very strong,” Partridge said. “One year, we had Griffon Olympics, where we did all the testing for broad jump and vertical, I think Ebo came out 79th out of 85 or something like that. He was that bad of an athlete, but he was just so smart and physical and such a good leader. He exemplified what we wanted out of our program.” Amy Beverly, Softball (2003-2006) As much as Walker was a model for the ‘Griffon Way’ in football. Amy Beverly was that figure for Jen Bagley-Trotter’s softball program. “It means the world to me,” Beverly said on her Hall of Fame selection. “Missouri Western changed my life for the better and I am very honored.” The Ankeny, Iowa native joined the squad in Bagley-Trotter’s second season at the helm of the program. Together they quickly turned the program into the constant winner that it still is today. “She took a gamble on me,” Beverly said. “Her first year there, she saw someone wearing a t-shirt that had Ankeny on it and the girl told her that I was really good. So she had me come down and visit and watch me practice and offer me scholarship.” In Beverly’s junior and senior seasons, the Griffons reached the 40-win mark, including 48 in 2005 which still stands as the programs top mark in the current era. “We were just playing softball,” Beverly said. “And we just started getting better and better and better and becoming more aware of the talent we had on the team and where we could go.” Beverly finds herself solidly in the MWSU record books as well. Her 263 career hits make her the top all-time in program history. She also holds the marks for most doubles, total bases, putouts and double-plays. Beverly says the memory that stands out the most to her was something that didn’t even focus on herself. “My senior season, the umpire got upset,” Beverly said. “We were playing Missouri Southern at Central because of rain. The umpire said in like the fifth inning that the game was over and the other team just won. So Coach Bagley got kicked out of the game and she proceeded to do handstands in centerfield.” The softball program is one of the most successful teams that Western has and the passion from people like Bagley-Trotter and Beverly are major driving forces why that is the case. Nicole Lindsey-Collier, Basketball (2001-2003) Lindsey-Collier has seen the Griffon program from all angles. She was a standout player, before facing the Griffons as a rival coach at Lincoln. “It's exciting and it's difficult to come back (to Western) to play,” Lindsey-Collier said. “There are so many good memories there. You walk in and see the banners and have the good memories.” Now she can add Griffon Hall of Famer to her resume. In just two seasons with the program as a transfer from Jefferson College, where she is also a Hall of Famer, Lindsey-Collier led Western No. 1 rankings in each of her seasons with the team. “We took a lot of pride in the way we played,” Lindsey-Collier said. how we played and how hard we played. So we had a lot of pride in that and we got the acknowledgment from the national rankings.” An unstoppable force inside during her career, Lindsey-Collier is second all-time for Western with 272 single-season rebounds. During her junior year, the Griffons won the MIAA championship. She was also an All-American finalist in each of her seasons at Western. Even though Lindsey-Collier is a rival coach, it is hard for her not to find herself pulling for her alma-mater. At least, when she’s not playing them. “If its outside of the conference, I’m always black and gold. That’s who I am and what I bleed.”

Women’s basketball beat bearcats

Nothing feels better than beating your arch rival, right? Well, what about sweeping them on the season? Oh, and completing that sweep in their house. Well, the Missouri Western women’s basketball team did just that last Saturday. The women took down rival Northwest by the score of 73-65 in Maryville, Missouri. The beginning and first half of the game were back and forth, Northwest getting nine points in the first from Schechinger. The teams went in to the half only separated by two points, with the score being 32-30 in favor of Western. Coming into the second half, the Griffons took control of the game. Sarafina Handy had 15 of her points in the second half, pushing the Griffons to their eight-point win against the Bearcats. The Griffons were led by junior LaQuinta Jefferson who put up 23 points and three assists. She also led the team in minutes played with 36 and was a perfect 4-4 on free throws. Another player who came up big for the Griffons was Handy, who put up 17 points, one assist, one block and one steal. Handy had a presence in every part of the game last Saturday, and that was huge for the Griffons to stop Northwest. After beating Northwest, head coach Rob Edmisson sets his sights on sweeping Central Missouri this Wednesday, but his goals are even further than that. When the media asked Edmisson what he thought the reason for the recent surge in performance was he had a simple answer. “We are winning games,” he said. “The kids have bought in, they understand what we are trying to do all year.” The Griffons have a lot of confidence going into the end of the season and the start of the postseason. The team has won four of their last five and players have been stepping up in the last stretch of the regular season. “Our team looks excited, a lot of teams look tired this time of the season,” Edmisson said. After the win in Maryville, the Griffons sit at 8-9 in MIAA play and 13-10 overall. They have locked up a spot in the MIAA tournament and, with a win in Warrensburg on Wednesday, can make their first tournament game a home game. The next game for Edmisson’s crew is Wednesday, Feb. 25, at Central Missouri.