Cougars off to best start in short history

Columbia College is beating teams by an average of 15 points.
Monday, November 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:39 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Columbia College women’s basketball team isn’t a typical repeat conference champion.

The Arena at Southwell Complex isn’t filled with banners profiling the team’s long, storied history because the team has been around for only three seasons. The Cougars, though, have won the American Midwest Conference the past two years.

Despite being one of the AMC’s newer programs, coach Mike Davis has led the team to a 36-1 conference record.

This season, the Cougars, No. 13 in the NAIA, are off to their best start in the program’s history at 5-0. They have defeated opponents by an average of 15 points, but Davis and his team aren’t getting complacent.

“You should never be happy with where you are,” he said. “Any great team has to have a hunger and a drive to get better.”

The team’s biggest early season weakness has been turnovers. The team lost the ball 36 times against Olivet Nazarene and 24 times against Bethany.

“Our turnovers haven’t been where they needed to be,” Davis said. “If we continue to turnover the ball, there is going to come a time that it will bite us.”

Davis has the team run after every turnover it commits in practice.

“We value the ball more knowing if we turn it over that we’ll be running,” senior Mindy Mitchem said.

Columbia College returns all five starters from a season ago, including four seniors. Reigning conference MVP Charliss Ridley and Mindy Mitchem lead the Cougars’ front court, while all-conference seniors Tiffany Foote and Lisa Kowaleski start in the backcourt.

Davis said the seniors have played with each other since the 2001-2002 season when the program began and have a bond that might help the team advance beyond the second round of the NAIA tournament, where its title hopes ended last season.

“Our group of seniors is a special group who bought into this program and made it grow,” Davis said. “They have confidence in each other and have a comfort level that should lead to a higher level of play,”

Mitchem said her teammates help her stay motivated and focused during practice.

“It’s key for us to push each other in practice,” she said. “Focus is what we need to make ourselves better.”

Foote said the seniors have been playing with a sense of urgency this year that wasn’t present in years past.

“We realize we don’t get any second chances,” she said. “We’re trying to play more aggressively and be more physical in everything we do. We want to play our style of game, not react to how other teams are playing us.”

The Cougars first test will come tonight at 7 when they face No. 16 Oklahoma Baptist at the Arena of Southwell Complex.

Davis said OBU will challenge his team because of the Bison’s height advantage.

“Their size is unbelievable,” he said.

OBU has three players taller than 6 feet 3 inches, including senior Tetyana Klimenko who stands at 6- 5. The Cougars tallest player, Rachel Davis, is 6-1.

Davis said that playing a tough nonconference schedule against teams like Oklahoma Baptist will help the Cougars later in the season.

“Second semester we can look back and say ‘There’s not a lot left to see. We’ve gone against this style of play and gone against great size. That leads to a confidence that there’s not a lot new out there,” he said.

Foote said a tough schedule allows the team to gain confidence and go farther in the national tournament.

“We’ve seen national tournament teams, so we know what it takes to get to that level,” she said. “We won’t be shell-shocked this year. In fact, we feel we are capable creating shell shock for our opponents.”

Davis said the team’s expectations exceed making the national tournament.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we want to do more than that,” he said.

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