March 15, 2024 

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament notebook: Drake aims to defend title

Top four seeds play in Hoops in the Heartland quarterfinals Friday

Riding an 11-game winning streak, Drake will begin their quest today to repeat as Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament champions. The Bulldogs will play Indiana State at noon in the quarterfinal round of Hoops in the Heartland at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. Indiana State defeated Southern Illinois 66-54 in the opening round Thursday.

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Drake, 26-5 overall and 19-1 in conference play, has already had a fruitful week, pulling in major hardware Wednesday night at the annual awards banquet.

Drake senior guard Katie Dinnebier was named the 2024 Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year, head coach Allison Pohlman was named MVC Coach of the Year and junior forward Anna Miller became the back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Miller was also named the State Farm Scholar-Athlete of the Year, maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade point average while majoring in health sciences.

During an MVC coaches’ pre-tournament Zoom meeting on Monday, Pohlman spoke about Dinnebier’s leadership and role in helping Drake secure the regular season title.

“I feel so cliche when I say this, but Katie’s definitely a bulldog,” Pohlman said. “She steps on the floor with that competitive spirit, that competitive edge. But I would also say Katie is surrounded by a lot of other very talented players that have been in our system for a number of years. Katie’s leadership style ultimately just starts in everything that she does. She’s the ultimate competitor, whether it’s in the classroom or on the floor.”

Dinnebier, one of five national finalists for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award, is the only player in NCAA Division I this season to average at least 18 points, 6.5 assists, and two steals per game. A member of the MVC All-Defensive Team, she has a league-high 77 total steals. She ranks within the top 10 nationally in multiple statistical categories including third in assists per game, fourth in total assists, and eighth in made free throws.

Miller leads the MVC and ranks eighth in NCAA Division I with 83 total blocks and 10th with 2.7 rejections per game. She also leads the MVC with 9.9 rebounds per game.

Drake Head Coach was named the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year at a banquet held on March 14, 2024. PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Holmes/The Next

In her third season as Drake’s head coach, Pohlman made history. The Bulldogs earned 20 wins for the third year in a row, marking the first time in program history that a head coach has reached that mark in their first three seasons.

Drake handily defeated Indiana State both times they faced each other this season, 77-47 in Des Moines on Jan. 4, and 96-64 in Terre Haute last Saturday in their final game of the regular season. However, Pohlman realizes it is a long road to hoisting the trophy again Sunday.

“The Valley runs deep and I totally agree,” she said Monday. “It’s one of those situations where, one through 12 and 12 back up to one, all of our coaches are able to get their teams to their potential to meet and exceed.”

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Belmont adjusts without star freshman

Second-seeded Belmont will face the University of Illinois Chicago tonight in the quarterfinals without MVC Freshman of the Year Jailyn Banks, who was injured Feb. 16 against the University of Northern Iowa. 

“It’s been a challenge, I think mostly on the defensive side of the court where we had been really good and largely because of Jailyn and her ability to be such a disruptive perimeter defender,” Belmont head coach Brad Brooks said Monday of adjusting without Banks. “When we lost her ability to change the game, especially guarding a point guard, we had to change a little bit of what we do defensively. But I really am pleased with how we’re starting to figure things out on the offensive side of the ball. I think we’ve been we’ve been sharing the ball beautifully.”

Before her injury, Banks reached double figures in 17 of her first 24 games. She was one of only eight freshmen in the country averaging at least 12.5 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game in at least 20 games played.

UNI looks for deep tournament run

Although UNI was selected as the preseason favorite to win the conference, injuries plagued the Panthers all season. Head coach Tanya Warren, however, was pleased to get the fourth seed and a first-round bye. UNI will play No. 5 seed Illinois State at 2:30 p.m. CT on Friday.

“I’m extremely proud of what this team has been able to overcome to start 1-9 and finish 15-14,” she said Monday. “It says a lot about the young women in our program and I’m extremely proud of our staff.”

Warren will rely on her leaders junior guard Maya McDermott and junior forward Grace Bofelli, who were both named to the MVC All-Conference First Team despite missing games due to injury.

“Where Maya has really improved is her mid-range. She shoots the mid-range jump shot really well,” Warren said. “She shoots the three really well and she gets downhill, and her ability to get to the free throw line. She’s leading the country and free throw percentage and she makes those around her better.”

“G-Bo just gives you everything she has on every single possession,” Warren said of Bofelli. “For her to miss six weeks and with the injury that she had and be able to come back and I think she has 10 double-doubles, it says a lot about her. I think the numbers speak for themselves. But they’re our heart and our soul.”

Balanced matchup in late game

Third-seeded Missouri State will face sixth-seeded Murray State in the late game of the quarterfinals tonight. Missouri State head coach Beth Cunningham knows her team has its work cut out for them as they split with Murray State in the regular season. 

“We had a really tough game at their place and were able to come away with a win there in a really tough, grinded-out type of game,” she said Monday. “And then they gave us our lone home loss of the season, in a really close game here as well that was really a possession-for-possession game.”

She will rely on several players who were honored at the awards banquet. Transfer point guard Lacy Stokes was named 2024 MVC Newcomer of the Year, averaging 11.8 points, 4.95 assists, 2.65 steals and 2.9 rebounds per game in conference play after transferring from Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

“Lacey has been awesome for us. Heading into the season the biggest void or area of concern for us was the point guard position,” Cunningham said. “She’s come in and just worked her tail off and has picked up our system very quickly. She’s really grown and developed from the early part of the season to where she is now playing with a lot of confidence. She really leads the way for us on both ends of the floor.”

Junior forward Kennedy Taylor was named 2024 MVC Sixth Player of the Year, averaging 11.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field in 18.8 minutes per game.

“I think that she’s given us a huge punch and lift off the bench just with her energy and how she’s been able to really come in and rebound,” Cunningham said of Taylor.

2024 Women’s Basketball MVC All-Conference Team

First Team

  • Grace Berg, Drake, Gr., F – Indianola, Iowa (Indianola High)
  • Grace Boffeli, UNI, Jr., F – Eldridge, Iowa (North Scott High)
  • Katie Dinnebier, Drake, Jr., G – West Des Moines, Iowa (Waukee High)
  • Maya McDermott, UNI, Jr., G – Johnston, Iowa (Johnston High)
  • Laniah Randle, S. Illinois, Jr., F – Wichita, Kan. (Wichita Heights High)
  • Katelyn Young, Murray St., Sr., F – Oakwood, Ill. (Oakwood High)

Second Team

  • Leah Earnest, Valparaiso, Sr. G/F – Stevens Point, Wis. (SPASH)
  • Anna Miller, Drake, Jr., F – Rochester, Minn. (Rochester Mayo High)
  • Tessa Miller, Belmont, Jr., F – Crossville, Tenn. (Stone Memorial High)
  • Lacy Stokes, Missouri State, Jr., G – Mount Vernon, Mo. (Mount Vernon High)
  • Deanna Wilson, Illinois State, Gr., F – St. Louis, Mo. (Cardinal Ritter College Prep)

Third Team

  • Jailyn Banks, Belmont, Fr., G – Spring Hill, Tenn. (Middle Tennessee Christian)
  • Kendal Cheesman, Belmont, Jr., F – Tampa, Fla. (H.B. Plant High)
  • Tuti Jones, Belmont, R-Jr., G – Troy, Ala. (Charles Henderson High)
  • Halli Poock, Bradley, Fr., G – Waterloo, Iowa (Waterloo West)
  • Kennedy Taylor, Missouri St., Jr., F – Shawnee Mission, Kan. (Shawnee Mission NW)
  • Makiyah Williams, UIC, Jr., G/F – Chicago, Ill. (Trinity High)

All-Newcomer Team

  • Emily La Chapell, Belmont, So., G, – Appleton, Wis. (Appleton East High)
  • Ava Learn, Murray State, Jr., G/F – Pleasant Valley, N.Y. (Our Lady of the Lourdes)
  • Keimari Rimmer, UIC, Gr., F – Chicago, Ill. (Proviso East High)
  • Lacy Stokes, Missouri State, Jr., G – Mount Vernon, Mo. (Mount Vernon High)
  • Makiyah Williams, UIC, Jr., G/F – Chicago, Ill. (Trinity High)

All-Freshman Team

  • Jailyn Banks, Belmont, Fr., G – Spring Hill, Tenn. (Middle Tennessee Christian)
  • Shannon Dowell, Illinois State, Fr., G – O’Fallon, Ill. (O’Fallon Township High)
  • Haven Ford, Murray State, Fr., G – Morehead, Ky. (Rowan County High)
  • Halli Poock, Bradley, Fr., G – Waterloo, Iowa (Waterloo West)
  • Nevaeh Thomas, Evansville, Fr., F – Kenosha, Wis. (Bradford High)

All-Defensive Team

  • Kate Bullman, Illinois State, Sr., F – Grayslake, Ill. (Grayslake Central High)
  • Katie Dinnebier, Drake, Jr., G – West Des Moines, Iowa (Waukee High)
  • Tuti Jones, Belmont, R-Jr., G – Troy, Ala. (Charles Henderson High)
  • Anna Miller, Drake, Jr., F – Rochester, Minn. (Rochester Mayo High)
  • Lacy Stokes, Missouri State, Jr., G – Mount Vernon, Mo. (Mount Vernon High)

Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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