Fans of Southeast women's team have reason to be excited

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Ohio Valley Conference basketball regular season is exactly one-half over right now, so it's probably a little too early to get carried away with much of anything.

But if you're a fan of Southeast Missouri State University's women, you probably can't help but be excited by what is going on with the squad these days.

The Redhawks are, for the first time since coach B.J. Smith took over the program three years ago, in first place at the halfway mark of the league schedule, sharing the top spot in the 11-team league.

Smith's first Southeast squad was a major success, going 19-11, finishing second in the OVC and advancing to the conference tournament finals. But Austin Peay ran away with the league that year from start to finish, as the Govs did not suffer a conference loss.

Smith's second Southeast team last year had another winning record at 16-13, but the Redhawks never really seemed to mesh very well together, and they placed fourth in the OVC, as Austin Peay again rolled to the title.

Those first two Southeast clubs under Smith went a combined 21-11 in the OVC's regular season, but this year the Redhawks are 7-1 (13-6 overall, riding a six-game winning streak). And they've looked plenty good doing it, which surely gives their fans hope that the success will continue.

And, as Smith is quick to point out, this is still a largely inexperienced team as far as Division I basketball is concerned -- only four players, including one starter, returned from last year -- so he doesn't believe the Redhawks have even come close to reaching their potential.

It's apparent to anybody who has watched the Redhawks most of the season that they are extremely athletic, are playing together and have really made a concerted effort to excel on defense, where they can put their impressive speed and quickness to good use.

It also should be glaring to Redhawks followers that newcomer Tatiana Conceicao is the real deal, just as Smith predicted she would be. The former first-team junior college All-American could easily play for most high-profile programs, so landing her at Southeast was a real coup. She already has established herself as probably the OVC's top player.

While Conceicao is the undisputed star of the team, everybody else seems to have fit into their roles well, which is what generally makes for a strong squad. On any given night, a player other than Conceicao is capable of putting up big numbers.

Like I said earlier, there is still plenty of the season left to be played, and who knows what's going to happen the rest of the way?

But, like I also said earlier, if you're a Redhawks fan, you have to be fired up by what is taking place right now.

Southeast has never won an OVC title in women's basketball and the squad has never advanced to the NCAA Tournament since making the move to Division I.

I don't want to jinx anything, but it certainly looks like this year's outfit is going to make a strong run at both of those feats.

* One more Southeast women's basketball note:

I've written it many times in the past, but it's still a shame that more fans don't turn out to support the Redhawks. When the women play before the men, there are rarely ever more than a couple hundred people -- tops -- in the Show Me Center at tipoff.

* Southeast's men, because of some narrow losses, are not faring as well in OVC play as the women.

But the Redhawks have made a nice recovery after some excruciating defeats to at least put themselves in a position to challenge for a solid spot in the final conference standings heading into the second half of the league schedule.

* Former Southeast football standout Ryan Roth has landed a spot with the Arena Football League's Nashville Kats, who opened their season Friday.

Roth, a defensive end who completed his eligibility at Southeast in 2003, is currently with the Kats' practice squad, but he could be activated for game action at some point during the campaign.

* John Webb, the professional pitcher whose parents were born in Cape Girardeau, recently signed a contract to remain in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization.

Webb made his major league debut with the Devil Rays last year after he spent most of the season in the minor leagues. He's likely to begin the coming season in Class AAA, but a strong spring training showing could land him a spot with the Devil Rays.

* A group of about eight local residents, headed up by area businessman Earl Norman, is taking part in the Cardinals Legends Camp that began Thursday and wraps up today in Florida.

The annual baseball fantasy camp is partly a charity event for Health Careers Foundation, a charitable organization based out of St. Louis that Norman is heavily involved with.

Health Careers Foundation is a scholarship loan program for people looking to enter a health care related field.

Southeast baseball coach Mark Hogan and his staff worked out Norman and some of his fellow fantasy campers to help get them in shape prior to departing for Florida.

* The Illinois basketball team has been nothing short of amazing so far this season.

A lot of people thought the top-ranked Illini would suffer their first loss Tuesday when they traveled to Wisconsin --but instead Illinois ended the Badgers' 38-game home winning streak.

Conventional wisdom suggests Illinois -- now 21-0 -- has to lose sometime, and that very well could happen Tuesday at Michigan State. But if the Illini survive that one, they figure to have a strong chance of entering the Big 10 Conference tournament undefeated.

Whether or not the Illini continue to remain unscathed, they're definitely looking like solid Final Four material, although anything can happen in the crazy, one-and-done world of the NCAA tournament.

One thing is for certain: Second-year Illinois coach Bruce Weber, the former SIU boss, has shut up in a big way the many critics who were all over him early last season when his first Illini squad got off to a shaky start.

* Oak Ridge High School product Nathan Daume led his Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College women's basketball team to one of the best starts in school history this season.

The Blue Dragons built a 16-0 record to begin the campaign, which tied for the second-best start in school history, although they entered the weekend having lost three straight to fall to 16-3.

Daume is in his third season as Hutchinson's head coach after spending the previous six years as head coach at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. He is a 1994 graduate of the University of Missouri, and from 1994 through 1996 he was a student assistant for the Tigers under former legendary coach Norm Stewart.

Southeast junior forward Natalie Purcell played for Daume at Hutchinson before coming to Cape Girardeau.

* See what I meant about how often times hyped matchups don't pan out?

That's what happened last Sunday with the NFL conference championship games as both turned out to pretty much be duds.

Sure, I correctly predicted the winning teams, but I definitely thought things would be a lot closer.

My first impression is that it looks like a good Super Bowl, but I'm not ready to reveal my official prediction just yet.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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