Seniors exit court, program and underclassmen with promising, positive future

by Aaron Young

Very few negatives could be said about the 2012-13 Simpson College women’s basketball team and the type of season it underwent.

The Storm, which finished the season off with a 27-3 record and a record-tying sixth conference championship in a row under its drawstrings, were knocked out in the third round of the 2013 NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball Championship by the No. 22 ranked team in the nation, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, by score of 76-63.

The Warhawks (25-6) later then defeated Hope College 65-60 the next day and have punched their ticket to play in the Final Four in Holland, Mich. The three other teams participating include 2011 NCAA Tournament Champion Amherst College (30-1), DePauw University (32-0) and Williams College (26-5).

But, nonetheless, the Storm experienced one of the most decorative seasons in programs history as of late, not just by tying the school record with the most wins in a season, but with how the seniors provided tremendous play, much support and guidance to the team’s ten freshmen on the Storm’s game-day 15-person roster — both on and off the court.

All of that can be credited to the Storm’s graduating class: senior guards Kelsie Reeves, Chelsie Rohrs, and Nicole Crisp and senior forward Kate Nielsen.

Head women’s basketball coach Brian Niemuth said that they are probably the No. 1 reason for the team’s success this year.

“It’s not just their ability on the court,” Niemuth said. “I think it was the leadership they showed and what they provided as far as getting the freshmen into our program and getting them to understand what we do.”

Niemuth added that the seniors fit together extremely well as far as what their strengths were.

“I think that probably provided the reason for their great leadership,” Niemuth said.

All of the seniors received some type of recognition by the Iowa Conference due to their own individual efforts and performances during the season.

Starting with Kate Nielsen, the senior forward from Urbandale, Iowa was honored as the league’s Most Valuable Player. She is the sixth player in the program’s history to receive the award. She averaged 22.3 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game, and shot almost 54 percent from the field and shot almost an astonishing 51 percent from 3-point territory. The MVP was also named Iowa Conference Player of the Week seven times during the season.

Nielsen is also only one of six players to reach the 1,000 career point plateau during her tenure as a member of the Storm basketball program, finishing her career with a final mark at 1,258 career points and 642 career rebounds. She is one of two players to reach the 1,000 career point total and 500 career rebounds in two seasons or less, as she transferred from Minnesota State University, Mankato to Simpson at the start

of her sophomore year.

Her honors off the court are just as impressive as on the court. She was honored a spot on the 2012-13 Capital One Academic All-America Division III Women’s Basketball First Team. To think you could go beyond that, she did. Nielsen was also named a finalist for the Jostens Trophy, which recognizes one male and one female Division III basketball player for their strong academic performance, athletic achievements on the court and volunteerism in the community. She is just one of 11 to be recognized and considered for the honor. The winners will be announced on Mar. 21 in Salem, Va.

“Kate Nielsen was our leader by example,” Niemuth said. “Her leadership came from coming to practice every day, working hard and playing hard in every game. I think when young players see one of the best players in the nation coming to work every day to get better, that rubs off on them.”

Crisp received Iowa Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a first-team all-conference pick for the Storm. The senior guard from Shiprock, N.M. is the program’s first to receive such an honor. The guard averaged 2.4 steals per game. Crisp concluded the season with 73 steals and a career mark of 118 in her two seasons in the red and gold since transferring from Mesa Community College. She averaged 10.9 points per game and shot close to 45 percent from the floor. Crisp also shot nearly 80 percent from the charity stripe.

“Nicole’s understanding of what it’s like to be away from home and to be in a new program meeting new friends, I think she conveyed to the other young players that she had been through what they were going through,” Niemuth said. “She was there kind of like a mother role, always being there for them to talk to and ask questions.”

Reeves received second-team all-conference honors at the point-guard position. The Des Moines Lincoln High School graduate averaged 7.4 points per game and recorded about 4 assists per game. She started and appeared in all 30 of the Storm’s games and averaged 26.4 minutes each contest. Reeves had been an asset with the program all four years at Simpson.

“She and I have been together and have been through some battles,” Niemuth said. “Those experiences helped us this year to be on the same page. She was our leader on the floor and in the locker room. She understood probably better than anybody what I wanted out of everybody and she was able to convey that.”

Lastly, Rohrs was honored as an honorable mention all-conference selection. The guard from Granville, Iowa averaged 7.8 points per game and led the team in 3-point shots taken as the Storm’s primary three-point threat, shooting 41-146 (28 percent) behind the arc. She had been a part of the team for two seasons after transferring from Wayne State.

“Chelsea’s leadership style came in the fact that she gave 100 percent in everything she did. She came and it didn’t matter if we were doing a drill or playing full court. Whatever we were doing in practice, she gave 100 percent. Her effort is what the young players would have noticed.” Niemuth said.

Niemuth also experienced a tremendous season of coaching the talented group of basketball players. He was named by the league as the conference’s Coach of the Year — his second in a row and his seventh total in receiving the award. The Storm finished the season ranked No. 10 nationally according to and tied No. 11 nationally in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Simpson also was ranked No. 1 in its respected West region, earning the chance to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The 26-year head coach also notched win No. 500 of his career this season when his team defeated Loras College, 75-62 on Feb. 9. Niemuth became the 20th head coach to reach this mark in NCAA Division III women’s basketball history.

Niemuth considers himself lucky to have such a good group to coach this year.

“I was very blessed that they were as successful as they were,” Niemuth said. “When your players are successful, then you get all those awards as a coach, but they’re the ones really doing it and I think I’ve benefited from having a lot of really good players.”

With these four strong senior leaders, the Storm women’s basketball team has a promising future with what they have been able to do, and teach, the underclassmen beneath them. Freshman guard Morgan Mauro, who appeared in all 30 games for the Storm this season, is just one of the many players the seniors took under their wings.

Mauro said that the seniors were all very welcoming and were great leaders on and off the court.

“They taught us how to play Simpson basketball and didn’t treat us like freshmen,” Mauro said. “We all got along great and that’s why our team played so well together.”

The Storm’s three losses have some notability in themselves however now that the season is through.

After starting the season off at a perfect 9-0, Simpson endured its first loss to a 2013 Final Four team in Amherst College during the Land of Magic Classic in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Storm were in the match throughout the entire night, but Amherst rallied together and eventually defeated the Storm in nail biting fashion in the final seconds 62-60.

Niemuth feels that the loss to Amherst provided confidence in the team in believing they could play with anybody in the nation.

“Even though we lost, at the time I believe Amherst was in the Top 5 and we were breaking into the Top 20,” Niemuth said. “We lost at the buzzer on a great shot by one of their players. Amherst has been to the Final Four now five years in a row, and so I think that was a turning point for us as far as confidence goes.”

Simpson would later go on perfect throughout the entire month of January, before suffering its second loss of the year to the University of Dubuque on Feb. 13, which just so happened to be on Senior Night and spoiled the Storm’s chances with an undefeated conference record. Dubuque defeated Simpson in this contest 72-56.

Niemuth said that this game was an interesting game because of it being right after his 500th career victory, was a game that was played on Senior Night and was also Pink Zone Night, where the team conducts fundraising for breast cancer awareness.

“To me there were a lot of distractions that night, and I think we played that way,” Niemuth said. “We weren’t very focused on the game itself.”

And then, the Storm’s third and final loss came Mar. 8 when the team was defeated by UW-Whitewater in the Sweet 16, spoiling the team’s hopes and aspirations of winning a national title.

Niemuth felt that his team competed with their opponents dead-even with for 35 of the 40 minutes in regulation.

“There was a five minute period in the second half where they went on a big run, and other than that I think we could have played right with them,” Niemuth said.

He added that since the Warhawks were playing on their home floor at that point in the season, home court advantage was huge.

“Having them play on their home court was an advantage,” Niemuth said. “But when you look at it and we have three losses and two of them were to Final Four teams, that tells me we were pretty legit.”

Now with the season come and gone, players being erased from the depth chart and new faces looking to fill big shoes, an even newer face of young talent will emerge for the Storm, but nothing will change in regards to the Simpson College women’s basketball squad and its tenacious style.

Mauro said that one lesson she learned from the senior leaders at the conclusion of the season was to always stay positive no matter what.

“When we messed up or made mistakes, they told us to keep our heads up and to have confidence in ourselves,” Mauro said. “And not only did they teach us how to play Simpson basketball and how to play as a team, but they taught us how to be great leaders on and off the court.”

And from a coach‘s perspective, Niemuth thinks the freshmen group is very talented.

“I think the talent is there and we’ll bring in more talent,” Niemuth said.

His only concern is whether or not the Storm can replace the leadership the squad just had.

“That’s something that we’ll have to work on. That’s kind of the big question I think for me next year is: Where will that leadership come from?”