JOHN FROSCHAUER / AP Enlarge
BOWLING GREEN - It was late December, and the Bowling Green women's basketball team was floundering with a 3-3 record.
Coach Curt Miller, his assistants, and the players held a meeting. The topic? Miller's coaching.
"The team confronted me and asked me to look in the mirror," Miller said. "They gave me two or three things they wanted me to do to be a better coach. I still have their list in my wallet."
Miller said the effects of that meeting were obvious - not to mention positive.
"I don't think we could have won without that meeting," he said. "It brought us closer. There were some things I needed to hear from our players. And in the long run, it was the start of something good."
Actually, it was better than good for the Falcons. BG went 20-5 after that point, won the Mid-American Conference's regular-season and tournament titles, and claimed the program's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1994.
It also has raised expectations for the future. After all, next season the Falcons will return all five starters who scored nearly 90 percent of the team's points and grabbed 85 percent of its rebounds.
Not so fast, Miller said. First, the three seniors - Kelly Kapferer, Tene Lewis and Sakima Smith - will be missed despite limited production.
"First, we're losing two seniors who were an integral part of our rotation," he said. "And all three were great in the locker room. They were a big reason we had good chemistry. All three seniors were a bigger part of the program than can be measured by points and rebounds."
What's more, Miller said this past season has taught him how difficult it is to win a MAC title.
"You have to have a lot of things go right [to win the title]," he said. "Somewhere down the line, I am confident that the MAC will get more than one bid to the NCAA tournament, but right now there is only one. So there is a lot of pressure to win the title, and it's a lot tougher to consistently get in the NCAA tournament.
"You need to stay healthy, play good basketball at the end of the season, and get a lot of breaks."
The Falcons in large part got all three to post a 23-8 overall mark and a 13-3 record in the MAC, tops in the West Division. Still, BG's fast finish - it won six in a row and 11 of 12 before the season-ending loss to Kansas State in the NCAA tournament - was an experience Miller thinks will benefit his team.
"Our players recognize we'll have a big bull's-eye on our backs," he said. "Now we're going to see other team's best efforts. But we spent all of February and March playing that way, and our kids stepped up and handled it."
Individually, the Falcons will have several players in the spotlight next season. The core of the squad will be juniors: Liz Honegger led the team with 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, while Ali Mann added 13.8 points and 7.4 rebounds and both were named All-MAC second team. A third junior-to-be, Carin Horne, averaged 11.4 points per game.
The rest of the lineup is back, too, as freshman Kate Achter averaged 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this season and Casey McDowell, who will be a senior, averaged 6.8 points, thanks in part to 44 treys, third behind Honegger's 59 and Horne's 45.
Miller said the team can improve, of course. "Our on-court athleticism has to get better," he said. "And we need to get bigger in terms of height - of course, that's easier said than done."
Miller and his staff will add five recruits to the mix next season, hoping that the combination of experience and improvement will lead to another successful season.
"From the moment I got here, I wanted to build a program, not a one-hit wonder," he said. "I wanted to build a consistent program that could compete, year-in and year-out."
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