In anything that we do as a society, we are all judged upon what we can do to raise the bar and become better.
And if a group of judges were present, it is clear that the Shawnee State University women’s basketball program would obtain a perfect score for its work.
That work, which has come in large part due to staying true to a blueprint that has remained in place over the course of many years, has only evolved as time as went along.
Need any more proof? A 24-3 overall record, 19 straight victories, and an undefeated 11-0 Mid-South Conference output — all components to a No. 1 ranking — certainly is plenty enough.
“We’ve set high standards,” Nickel said. “We do a lot of goal-setting for each season, and one of our goals this year was to beat the No. 1 team in the country. Our goals are to always win the Mid-South Conference regular season championship, the Mid-South Conference Tournament title, and go to the Final Four and have a chance to win a national championship. Those have always been our goals. We’ve been able to achieve all of our goals so far to this point in the season, and with a win on Saturday (against Georgetown), we’ll be able to at least win a share of the conference championship. Our goal is to finish the regular season out strong, finish as regular season conference champs, and get ready for the tournament.”
To examine the goals that Shawnee State has accomplished in Nickel’s five seasons as the head coach, you must first look at who the Bears attracted in order to bring the program up a notch. Star basketball hands like Allie McKinney, Abby Feuchter, Ali Zieverink, Rebecca Bruner, Jen Arnzen, and Jonessa Moore, among many others, formed the base of a program that has ultimately taken home three consecutive regular season championships.
At least a share of a fourth consecutive MSC regular season title — which could be obtained in a Saturday afternoon victory over Georgetown (Ky.) — would come on the back of upperclassmen such as Madison Ridout, Ashton Lovely, Hannah Miller, Lydia Poe, and Shania Massie, who have taken the torch and ran with it en route to proving themselves as valuable members in all facets of the program, both on and off of the floor.
“We’ve recruited really good people and high character, high moral athletes since I’ve been here, and, for that matter, since (Robin) Hagen-Smith was here. In that, we’ve also been able to develop leaders. In the first year when we won that championship (in 2014-15), Abby McKinney and that group did an excellent job of leading, as well as Jen and Ali. That’s just the culture. That’s our standard now. We know the expectations, we know that there’s a certain way that things need to be done, and how we need to approach practice, preparation, in-season, out-of-season, class work, and all of the things that make you successful in collegiate athletics. A lot of that has been grandfathered down, and that’s something that we’ve really worked hard at as a staff to establish.”
That groundwork, however, has been led by the type of kids that Shawnee State has been able to attract.
Since the 2008-2009 season, Shawnee State has had at least three players earn an all-academic conference award in a strong eight of the nine seasons, with the Bears placing at least one student-athlete on the NAIA Scholar-Athlete list in 12 of the last 13 seasons. It is very likely that those streaks will continue considering that Madison Ridout and Hannah Miller, who earned Academic All-MSC honors last season, are still in the fold.
“We’ve had really good kids that have come in, bought into what we’re asking out of them, and have done their job,” Nickel said. “That’s something that we talk about constantly — being professional, showing discipline, and doing what you’re supposed to do when it’s time to do so. They’ve all been able to do that and understand what their role is. Anytime that you learn what your job is and you do your job, you’ve got a responsibility and a priority to carry that out every single day.”
And that discipline off of the court carries into the successful play that has been witnessed on the court year after year. In fact, Shawnee State’s margin of 25.8 points per game over its opponents, if it holds, is set to be the highest that the Bears have had in a single season since the 2008-09 campaign, when SSU went 31-1 and obtained a No. 1 overall tournament seed in the NAIA Division II realm. That margin is, due in large part, to the Bears’ excellent ability to take care of the basketball as SSU has turned the ball over just 13.6 times per contest — the lowest that the program has had since in-season stats were officially recorded in 2003-04.
“We’ve got a lot of depth at the guard position and we’ve got a lot of really good players,” Nickel said of the low turnover rate. “It just shows our skill set and our skill development. Our kids can all dribble, pass, and shoot, and they make great decisions. Our shooting percentage is obviously a reflection of that because we get a lot of high-percentage shots. That’s why we score so many points, and that’s why our turnovers are low. They understand their roles and what the expectations are.”
However, taking care of business in every facet is all a part of what has made the Shawnee State University women’s basketball program the force that it is today — and what will make it a force to be reckoned with in the future.
“It goes back to them knowing their jobs,” Nickel said, “doing their jobs, and carrying those out every single day.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT