Patience, humility and Lizzy Jeronimus.
Those were the three things, it turned out, that the Pittsburg State women’s basketball team needed to take their place among the NCAA Division II elite.
“There have been humbling times,” Pittsburg State coach Lane Lord said. “But if you want to go from the bottom to the top of the league, it’s hard and you have to learn as you go.”
There’s the patience and humility, which Lord got a healthy dose of in four up-and-down seasons in the MIAA before last year’s breakthrough.
Jeronimus is a different monster. As a freshman, the 5-foot-11 guard/forward out of Shawnee Mission West led the Gorillas in points (16.8) and assists (2.8) per game last season as a freshman, guiding Pittsburg State to a 27-6 record and the Elite Eight. She was named MIAA freshman of the year, All-MIAA and honorable mention All-American, the Gorillas’ first All-American since 2000.
“We feel very fortunate to have (Jeronimus), we feel like she’s a Division I player who fell through the cracks,” Lord said. “She’s an unbelievable talent … a player who can play multiple positions. We’ve built our team around her this season.”
Lord said Jeronimus was at her best late in the season, when teams began to focus on double-teaming her. She averaged 23 points in four NCAA Tournament games.
“Not only did she score more, but she’s so good at finding the open man,” Lord said. “She could adapt to what they were doing and we were still able to be successful.”
The Gorillas are ranked No. 3 in the NCAA Division II preseason poll, and Jeronimus spent the summer in Pittsburg working on her game — particularly her outside shooting. Lord said he wants her to take 100 three-pointers this season -- quite a jump from the 44 she took last year.
“We were all here this summer, working out together in the mornings,” Jeronimus said. “I definitely feel quicker, faster and stronger than I was last year.
“I really like being able to set up on the wing because it puts me in a position where I can drive, shoot or pass when I get the ball. I feel like I see the court pretty well and can find the open person ... I’m perfectly fine with getting an assists as long as we score.”
Also returning is junior point guard Alexa Bordewick, a Washburn Rural product who started 32 of 33 games and was honorable mention All-MIAA.
“It was an amazing experience to make it to the Elite Eight, but this is a new team and a new year,” Bordewick said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work to try and get back to where we were.”
Wichita Independent product Lauren Brown, a 6-6 center, will be counted on to anchor the post.
“When Lauren came here, her game was really raw,” Lord said. “After three years as a backup, she’s ready to step up and be somebody we can rely on.”