Everything about the Friends women’s basketball team looked about as it did the past seven years.
The same plays, the same defenses, the same desire on the court were all present.
But there was one major change, which, after a 24-8 record and another KCAC regular-season title, might have been rendered imperceptible.
Coach RaeAnne Boothe left the Falcons last August for a similar position at Texas-Permian Basin in Odessa, an NCAA Division II school. Friends quickly elevated six-year assistant coach Nicole Midder into an interim post, and the Falcons again thrived, landing a spot in the NAIA Division II tournament beginning Thursday.
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Midder said the transition was an easy one.
“I think we have a similar theology about the game,” she said. “The program was already set, and there weren’t any changes that we wanted to make.
“We just focus on how we play, and how we treat each other. Those are the two ultimate goals.”
One of the highlights of this season was a 15-game winning streak as KCAC play was winding down.
Midder said the key during the streak was to maintain focus.
“I don’t think we were counting (victories),” she said. “I think everyone else was, because the margin of errors for wins was very short. A lot of those games were dogfights in the fourth quarter where we needed to come up with big stops and make big baskets.
“We were just on a mission, so we weren’t really counting.”
Since that time, the Falcons’ only loss was in the KCAC tournament final to Tabor.
Both Tabor and Friends will begin play Thursday in the NAIA Division II tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. The Falcons, with an automatic bid by virtue of their regular-season title, will play their first-round game Thursday against Northwestern (Iowa) at 8:30 a.m.
Tabor (18-13) will take on St. Xavier (Ill.) at 8:45 p.m. The Cougars enter the tourney with a 29-2 record.
Midder, who played for Boothe at Friends, has stayed on since and now finds herself moved down a chair on the bench.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said.
Another adjustment for the Falcons has been to accept more of a balanced scoring attack.
Shann Sellers, a two-time NAIA first-team All-American, graduated and left some big shoes to fill. All Sellers did a year ago was lead the nation in scoring and steals, including 15 double-doubles and Friends’ first triple-double.
This year’s scoring leaders are two seniors with contrasting methods.
Betty Akathiotou is a 5-foot-8 guard originally from Cyprus and averages 15.1 points.
“She is a great driver,” Midder said. “She actually comes off the bench for us this year. I think she plays better off the bench, because she’s able to see the game and then she’s able to figure out what she’s going to do.”
Makenzie Vining, a 5-9 Caney Valley product, is close behind at 14.5 and is tied for the team lead in rebounds with 5-10 senior Yowana Posey.
Not to be forgotten is senior April Quiroz.
“She’s our glue,” Midder said.
With nine seniors – including four starters – experience is a long suit, Midder said.
“The blessing that we got for this season is that there were multiple weapons,” Midder said. “We didn’t have to rely on just a Shann Sellers. We were able to get a Makenzie, a Betty. There’s a lot of them that do things that aren’t charted on the stat sheet that impact the game in a huge way.
“I think the fact that we have some versatility and some additional weapons really helped us this year.”