Team plays well in Vegas, even without coach

by Kinsey Bak

What happens in Vegas usually stays in Vegas, but that isn’t the case with the Simpson College women’s basketball team as it swept both games over Christmas break.

However, the Storm head coach Brian Niemuth didn’t make it to The Entertainment Capital of the World.

While Simpson was on its way to its connecting flight in Denver, Niemuth started sweating profusely and later passed out. Medical personnel were called over the intercom because of the emergency.

Senior Ali Sokol was in the back of the plane sleeping when the incident began.

“At first, I didn’t know what was going on, but then some teammates from the front looked back and said that it was Coach,” Sokol said.

Niemuth was very disappointed to miss out on this experience with his team.

“They took me off in Denver and took me by ambulance to the hospital where they kept me overnight for observation,” Niemuth said. “Turned out I was dehydrated from walking pneumonia.”

Niemuth was flown back to Iowa to rest up, thus missing out on the Vegas trip.

Junior Kate Nielsen said she was scared as well, but remained calm.

“It was a little scary when Coach wasn’t feeling well, but everyone remained calm and we knew pretty quickly that he was going to be okay,” Nielsen said. “When we found out that Coach needed to go home to rest, I knew that different thoughts were going through people’s heads, but we knew we would be okay.”

Niemuth and the players knew they would be okay with the extra hands helping along the way. Coaches Elizabeth Curry, Phil Wirtz and Whitney Franker took over Niemuth’s role.

“My assistants did a great job of handling the team,” Niemuth said.

Players had to go on and play without their head coach.

“I wasn’t sure how we would play without Coach Niemuth,” Sokol said. “I was confident in our assistants, Coach Curry, Coach Wirtz and Coach Franker. Still, the vibe on the team was completely different without Coach Niemuth.”

The Storm showed no mistakes as they played in the Classic the last two days of the trip. With hearing only good things about their opponents, the Storm faced a tough competition without their head coach, but were ready to play.

The first game was played against Eureka (Ill.). With the Red Devils only losing one game before the Storm, Simpson shut them out with a win of 94-70.

The score was led by Nielson with 15 points. Sokol tallied up 14 and both juniors Chelsie Rohrs and Jamie Elbert chipped in 13 points. Senior Stacey Schutjer came home with a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double against Eureka.

Sokol was pleased with the outcome of the first game.

“With Eureka, we came out so strong and played like a team so well that we could’ve beat anyone we played that day,” Sokol said. “They were pretty good, but we dominated them.”

That didn’t stop the Storm as they took on Thomas More, who is ranked 25th in the nation. The game was close throughout the contest with Simpson in a five-point lead with only six minutes left. With a fast break, Simpson quickly tallied up the points and mounted a 14-2 run. The Storm took their second win of the Classic with a score of 79-66.

Nielsen led again with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Sokol was close behind with 20 points, and Rohrs added 19 points, who hit all three of her 3-pointers. Schutjer was sidelined early in the game for injury. Nielsen also had four assists and went 7-for-8 from the free throw line.

“You could definitely say that we were pumped up for both games,” Nielsen said. “We played with an energy that was unbelievable. We played like a championship team. Winning both games was what we went to Vegas to do, so that alone made the trip awesome. Everything else just added to it.”

The Storm relied on teamwork in their Las Vegas performance.

“With both of those teams, I thought they were good, but when we play together, no one matches up to us,” Sokol said. “We have so much talent on the team that when we all play well, we dominate, and we all played well in Vegas.”

Even though Niemuth wasn’t there physically, he was there in spirit. Niemuth was able to watch the first game broadcasted live on the web, but couldn’t get the second game, and opted for live stats.

As always, Niemuth has great confidence in his team.

“They played really well and I wasn’t surprised,” Niemuth said.

The Storm hope to carry the momentum they gained in Las Vegas back to Iowa. They take on Wartburg on Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. for a conference game in Waverly, IA.