Before nearly every game, players on the Pittsburg State women’s basketball team talk among themselves that they have no idea who is going to lead the team in scoring.
Opponents can look at statistics and assume it will be junior shooting guard Mikaela Burgess, who is averaging 16.7 points and is coming off a season in which she earned All-American honors.
Or it could be sophomore forward Madison Northcutt. She ranks second on the team in scoring with an 11.5 average.
In the Gorillas’ 80-54 victory Saturday at Northwest Missouri State, sophomore Brenlee McPherson came off the bench and scored a career-high 23 points to lead Pittsburg State. She was averaging 4.7 points.
WBB: 13 Gorillas see court time today, 11 score, including 4 in double figures ... McPherson (23) Northcutt (14) Lungwitz (12) Burgess (11)— Pitt St Athletics (@PittStGorillas) January 7, 2017
“That,” senior Paige Lungwitz said, “makes us tougher to guard. One game, I might be having a tough one and somebody else will pick me up. You never know where it is going to come from.”
The scoring versatility and team play have helped Pittsburg State soar to a 14-1 record and 6-0 in the MIAA. The Gorillas are currently ranked No. 6 in the WBCA top 25.
RANKINGS: WBCA Top 25
The only loss came against No. 2 Emporia State in a non-conference game on Dec. 31. The rivals will square off again on Jan. 18 in a game that will count in the MIAA standings.
Pittsburg State has two home games before it plays at Emporia State.
“Like coach Lane Lord says, your next game is your biggest game,” Lungwitz said. “We look forward to our next one and really focus on ourselves and what we need to do to get better.”
The Gorillas know what it takes to navigate a season and reach heights only eight teams each season achieve. A year ago, Pittsburg State beat Emporia State in the regional championship game and reached the Elite Eight for the second time in the program’s history.
“It was the most amazing atmosphere I have never seen in John Lance Arena,” Lord said. “It was a packed house, over 3,200 people.”
The experience from last year is fueling the Gorillas this season.
“It was an awesome experience for all of us as a team and as a community,” Lungwitz said. “Without our community, we wouldn’t have been able to get there. Without every single person on the bench, we wouldn’t have been able to get there. It brought our whole entire program together.
“We work together really well this season. Each person on the team plays a part. As long as we play as a team, we can hopefully get back there again.”
Lungwitz and Hadyn Herlocker are the only two seniors on the roster. Lord said what is great about them is they are the hardest workers on the team. The younger players follow their work ethic.
“The chemistry of the team has been outstanding with just two seniors,” Lord said. “Paige and Hadyn are great leaders. Hadyn is a self-made player. All she does is find people open. She gets us into all of our sets. She had five assists and no turnovers tonight.
“Paige, you can see what she does on the glass. She does the dirty work and can make the open three. She is our glue player. When your seniors are your hardest workers, you feel good about that.
“We have a team that is driven. They are self-motivated. They do a great job preparing for each team. We will keep grinding.”
Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball team relishes being No. 1
Sometimes when a team reaches No. 1 in a poll, the players and coach will shrug it off and say they don’t really pay attention to those things.
“It was one of our little goals throughout the season to see if we could get ourselves to that level and keep the guys engaged,” said Northwest Missouri coach Ben McCollum. “It is good for our program. It is good for recruiting. We would like to be there at the end of the year. Obviously, we don’t want to buy into it too much.”
The Northwest Missouri players recognize that one of the benefits of being a highly ranked team is getting every opponent’s best shot.
“Early on, we would get big leads in the first half and we would come out in the second half and not be ready. We quickly realized when you have that high ranking, you are going to get everybody’s best shot,” Northwest Missouri junior forward Brett Dougherty said. “No one is going to lie down for you.”
The 2016-17 Bearcats also understand they didn’t reach No. 1 just by what they've done this season. Players before them created a culture that has allowed the program to grow over the last six years. Northwest has played in the last three Central Regional championship games.
“You get to step in and be a part of something that is set like hard work, extra effort and coming into practice ready to go,” said Northwest Missouri senior forward D’Vante Mosby. “You get to ride that wave and do your best to carry it on.
“This means so much looking back at so many players who poured their careers into this program and built the culture here. It is good to have this for them. Obviously, we have bigger goals.”
The most immediate goal is to stay in first place in the MIAA. Northwest is 6-0 in conference play and holds a two-game lead over Nebraska-Kearney, Missouri Southern and Central Oklahoma.