A little over three hours into a bus trip from Springfield, Mo., to Chicago, Ill. Wednesday afternoon, Drury women’s basketball coach Molly Miller was taking care of a few media interviews.
In one interview, she worried if the movie that some of her players were watching was making it difficult to hear her answers.
Miller’s excitement about Thursday’s game at Lewis (Ill.) and Saturday’s game at Wisconsin Parkside, which will be televised on American Sports Network at 6 p.m. ET, came through clearly.
“This is a huge road trip for us,” Miller said. “We are excited because it is going to be two really competitive games. Anytime you can have two teams go at it that are top 10 in the nation, it makes for some good basketball to watch and a good brand.
“Parkside is another very talented team in our league. For it to be nationally televised is a great opportunity to showcase our school and the GLVC (Great Lakes Valley Conference) and Division II basketball. It is such a competitive brand of basketball. I think it is great to showcase those games that show our brand of basketball and show what the GLVC is about.”
The game against Lewis is about as good as it gets for an early January contest. Drury, 10-1 overall and 3-0 in the West Division of the GLVC, is ranked No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Lewis is 12-1 overall, 3-0 in the East Division and ranked No. 9.
Parkside is 7-4 and is coming off a 67-63 loss to Lewis. At 1-2 in the East Division, the Rangers know they can’t afford to lose many more conference games.
Drury is ready for the challenge that awaits it over the next three days.
“We had a great week of practice,” said Drury senior guard Annie Armstrong, who is averaging 14.9 points. “We know Lewis has a great team because they are great every year and so is Parkside. They are two of the best teams in conference. This week we really had to focus on our game plan.”
The Panthers are coming off a 26-4 year. Their season ended with a first round loss in the Midwest Regional.
Miller likes the chemistry of this year’s team. She senses something special is brewing with the 2015-16 Panthers.
“They really enjoy being around each other,” Miller said. “They have a feeling that this is going to be a special team and a special year. We all have the same goal. What they can do on the court because of their chemistry is fun to see come to life. When you have that type of friendship on and off the court, it makes for a special year. You enjoy coming to practice every day and going on these road trips.”
Obviously, Miller wants the Panthers to pull out two wins on the road trip, but hopes her players experience more than the good competition.
“Friday, in between games, we will go to downtown Chicago and let the girls explore a little,” Miller said. “I’m a big advocate of obviously taking care of the games, but having some cultural and learning experiences along the way.”
Coaching at Drury means a lot to Miller. She grew up in Springfield, Mo., and played at Drury. In her four seasons at Drury as a player, the Panthers compiled a 112-18 record and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2007.
“It is a dream come true to coach at your alma mater,” Miller said. “We have this saying the Drury Way and what that consist of is high-character kids playing a high level of basketball and enjoying it along the way. We have a lot of fun, but we work really hard.
“The expectations are high but the goals are higher. That’s the attitude we have had. There are such good people around the program and around our university. I couldn’t be more proud to be affiliated with Drury and the women’s basketball program.”
Armstrong has a good understanding of what Miller means. Armstrong also grew up in Springfield and attended the same high school, Springfield Kickapoo, as Miller. After one year at Eckerd College, Armstrong transferred to Drury.
“It is great to play in my home town,” Armstrong said. “I have a lot of family, friends and old coaches who can come to my games. I’m really excited to play in the town I grew up in.”
For the next two games, the Panthers are about as far away from home as they can be for GLVC games. It’s about an 8-hour bus trip to Chicago and nearly 9 hours from Somers, Wis., back to Springfield.
“It is huge to get off to a good start, especially when you are playing two, high-caliber teams like Lewis and Parkside,” Miller said. “It gives you confidence if you can go on the road and play well against them.”
Drury men’s basketball team to face two tough opponents
Drury men’s basketball coach Steve Hesser will see just how much the new players the team added for the start of the 2015-16 season are acclimated to the team over the next three days.
The Panthers, 7-4 overall and 2-1 in the West Division of the GLVC, play at Lewis, 9-3 and 1-1 in the East Division at 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday and at Wisconsin Parkside, 8-2 and 1-1 in the East Division at 8 p.m. ET Saturday. Saturday’s game will be televised on American Sports Network.
“Playing on the road in college basketball regardless of DI, DII or DIII, it is extremely difficult,” Hesser said. “We are going to play two good teams this weekend. Hopefully, we are prepared and ready to battle.”
The Panthers started the season dealing with a few injuries. The team got one of the players back after Christmas break.
“The new guys are starting to get it a little better and understand what we want,” Hesser said. “Things are becoming more second nature to them.”
It is important for the Panthers to be in sync in the rugged GLVC.
“Some would say it is the best DII conference in the country,” Hesser said. “Fourteen or 15 times in the last 25 years a team from this conference has played for a national championship.
“Night in and night out, it is a battle. You find out about your team real fast when you get into league play.”