COLUMBIA — Freshmen Tori Niemann and Paige Spietz have had their share of academic success. Niemann was salutatorian and Spietz graduated in the top 10 percent of her class. That was high school. College presents a whole new challenge.
Since the beginning of the season, Niemann and Spietz have been fighting for playing time on the Missouri women’s basketball team. Through the first nine games of the season, Tigers coach Robin Pingeton hasn’t found bench players that she can turn to on a consistent basis. Only six players average more than seven minutes per game.
New Jersey Institute of Technology (1-7)
Missouri Tigers (5-4)
WHEN: 2 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
Niemann and Spietz, who both average about five minutes per game, have as good an opportunity as anyone to prove they can be productive players. A week of practice and no games was an ideal time to improve and show Pingeton they deserve time on the court. But this past week, basketball wasn’t their primary concern. It was their first finals week of college, and it just isn’t the same as high school.
“In high school, you aren’t playing basketball as much during finals,” Spietz said. “Finals were a couple days in high school, where here finals are a full week. You’re studying every night for finals after practice and throughout your day when you can. It’s a lot more time consuming than high school.”
Spietz’s finals week consisted of a paper, a test and two finals. She’s glad there weren’t games, but she still didn’t have much time to relax.
“It’s more stress because of finals right now,” Spietz said. “With games and finals, it would be a lot. They want us to focus more on finals this week. It’s working out.”
Pingeton said she realizes the difficulties of balancing basketball and academics, so she gave the team three days off from practice during their seven-day stretch without games. And when they did practice, they mostly worked on shooting and conditioning with a little scrimmaging.
“It’s not the breakdown drill work that you want to do, but I don’t know if we would’ve got much out of that,” Pingeton said. “I just think they’re fried a little bit from late-night studying and cramming and things like that.”
Niemann says college finals are all about time management.
“It’s weird just having practice or just having to study and not going to class,” she said. “You have finals in high school but you still have class every day. It takes a lot of self-discipline, saying, ‘Tonight, I’m studying, or tonight, I don’t feel like it.’”
Before learning how to master finals week, the freshmen had the challenge of trying to stay caught up with schoolwork during their seven-game road trip to start the season.
“In high school, you got on the bus, drove 45 minutes for a game, then came back,” Spietz said. “You never spent the night or anything. Now, you’ve got to get your schoolwork done, time it right, so you have everything out of the way when you get on the plane.”
“It’s been tough, but the other girls have helped a lot,” Niemann said. “You just have to keep a planner and stick to it, and just be able to control what you want to do and when you want to do it.”
Now that finals are over, Niemann, Spietz and the rest of the Tigers can turn their attention to the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders of the Great West Conference. The Highlanders bring a 1-7 record into Mizzou Arena on Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to the month ahead of us in regards to some down time from the academic side,” Pingeton said, “where we can just really focus on basketball and really continue to develop their skills.”