Successful sports are becoming a year-round thing here in Highland Heights. Men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, even the baseball team have all achieved some success. As winter is quickly creeping up on us, it’s time for basketball.
Good basketball. It’s not the University of Kentucky, Louisville, or Western Kentucky University, but a guy knows good basketball when he sees it. It’s now in Northern Kentucky. In Highland Heights. Population: 6,500.
The women’s basketball team, arguably having the most improbable run in all of college sports last year, has already taken down one Division I opponent: University of Cincinnati. Although it’s not terribly important at this time, the women are also the top-ranked team to begin the season in Division II.
That’s really saying something; of course, being ranked first means nothing in the pre-season. But it has to be somewhat of an honor to the Norse, who lost two of the most important players in the history of the women’s basketball program in Nichole Chiodi and Angela Healy. Yet, the Division II coaches see a team who can take the ball from last year’s nearly improbable national title run and continue to run with it.
But, who’s to say they can’t do it again? After all, weren’t they supposed to be done in the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament? Weren’t they supposed to lose in the regional title game against first-seeded Drury on their home floor? Weren’t they down double digits against a heavily favored South Dakota squad?
Yes to A, B and C.
It’s obvious the Norse have a solid core returning, despite the losses of Chiodi and Healy. Cassie Brannen is back for her final year. She, like her brother Bobby who scored 1,000 points at UC years ago, has been a solid rock for her program. Without her second-half performance in Nebraska last year, there wouldn’t be a NCAA Title. Period.
She and freshman Whitney Levering, a versatile 6-1 forward center who can post up and hit the mid-range jumper, are going to try to fill the void left by perpetual double-double machine Angela Healy. This time, Cassie Brannen’s the force on the low block.
Danyelle Echoes, one of the less talked about players from the national championship team, (and undeservedly so after hitting two enormous three-pointers in the second half) returns for her senior year. Rachel Lantry and Jessie Slack will give the team threats from beyond the perimeter.
All that and Nancy Winstel’s sweater, which when worn, can win national championships when the team isn’t supposed to.
Will Northern Kentucky University get the media attention if success does come their way? Probably not.
But now, NKU has a college team they can brag about.