The Shawnee State Lady Bears gathered with fans and loved ones Sunday afternoon as the team prepared to embark on a trip to Missouri to begin its NAIA national tournament run.
Supporters flocked to Buffalo Wild Wings to enjoy food and conversation, while taking one last opportunity to show their support for the lady Bears.
“It’s important for the girls, it’s good for them,” Bears head coach Jeff Nickel said. “The community has been great. We really appreciate Scott Schmidt and Stacy Staker for putting this on for us. They did it last year and it was a really big success. It’s good for the kids, families, friends, all of our fans; it’s just important to get them all in one setting and show the girls all the support at home.
“It’s tough when you go 10 hours away to play some games. It means a lot to the girls to know they have people back home watching and supporting them.”
SSU will open its tournament run Wednesday at 4 p.m., as the No. 2 seed prepares to face Langston (Oklahoma) and head coach Cheryl Miller who is the sister of former NBA superstar Reggie Miller.
However, before SSU walks onto the court, the Bears took a moment to relish the support of the community.
” … It’s just something that you know the community is behind this team,” Nickel said. “They’re behind the school, behind the university. It’s our town, our team and when you have that type of mentality, it really helps these kids when they’re out there playing. It makes our kids play harder, knowing we’ve got great tradition and they just want to add to it.”
Junior Jen Arnzen probably has the best understanding for the community support Shawnee has received, playing her high-school ball at Notre Dame High School.
“Our community has always been behind us. It motivates us to have their support,” Arnzen said. “We love it. Our community has been there all season. Our Golden Bears are awesome. They are always at all of our games. The really support us and having our family here shows a lot of support.”
Madison Ridout also has a true understanding of a supportive community as the sophomore guard player at Jackson High School.
“This is awesome,” Ridout said. “It’s awesome to be part of a community that comes together and really supports us. We all love each other and we love the community, so it’s really cool to see everyone come together.”
The two seniors of the group, Zieverink and Feuchter have come to appreciate the community support over the last four years.
“It’s really, really amazing,” Zieverink said. “To see everyone come together, it’s hard to go to the national tournament and not do well knowing you have so many people behind you back home. It’s a good motivation and it’s great to know no matter how you do, they’re all going to have your back.
“That’s the one thing I love about being at Shawnee is knowing the support system is always there … “
Feuchter echoed those sentiments.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Feuchter said. “Having the support from everyone, we just love it. They’ve supported us for four years and their support is amazing.”
While the Bears have enjoyed the support they’ve received, Nickel believes the Mid-South Conference champions are ready to make a tournament run to validate the support the team has received all season.
“I feel like we’re ready,” Nickel said. “We’ve been playing really good basketball. I feel like we’ve peaked at the right time.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.