Following the footsteps
By Gordon Mann
|Hannah Munger knows how to
use her size to her advantage on the offensive and defensive ends
for George Fox.
George Fox athletics photo
One of the great things about success is that has a way of reproducing itself. Winning in the NCAA Tournament makes it easier for a coach to sell his or her program to better recruits, which leads to more winning. Sow success and reap more of it.
In 2009 the George Fox Bruins had the most success possible. They went undefeated and won the first Division III women’s basketball national championship for any school west of the Rocky Mountains. And while that national championship should have helped George Fox expand its recruiting reach, the most important recruiting byproduct of the 2009 title team came from the closest place possible.
In 2009 Hannah Munger was a senior at Newberg (Ore.) High, which is less than two miles from George Fox’s campus. Scott Rueck, George Fox’s head coach at the time, was watching Munger closely. “I saw a gifted athlete, especially for her size,” he recalls. “I knew she could run the floor and was able to touch the rim. Her game was fairly raw overall.”
Thinking back to her high school days, Munger agrees with that assessment. “Height came first, then skill definitely. I was pretty tall and awkward in high school. I wasn’t a super good player but I think Scott saw a lot of potential in me.”
Munger likewise saw a lot of potential in George Fox. “I remember visiting (the team) and seeing Keisha (Gordon). There was just something special about that team.” That team was anchored by 6-4 center Kristen Shielee. She was the center piece of Rueck’s stout defense, providing a shot-blocking and nerve-calming presence that allowed the young George Fox guards and wings to play aggressively, knowing that Shielee was behind them to erase their mistakes and opponents’ shots.
|Keisha Gordon averaged 12.7
points per game for the 2009 national champion Bruins as a freshman
and has scored 1,722 points in her career.
George Fox athletics photo
While Shielee was completing a tremendous senior season that culminated in her being named the 2009 NCAA Tournament’s most outstanding player, she was also unknowingly providing a role model for Munger. “During (Hannah’s) freshman year I wanted her to get comfortable with her back to the basket and to learn to be a shot blocker,” Rueck said. “Amazingly enough, she did not have shot blocking instincts. Since she is from Newberg, she was able to watch Kristen Shielee during our national championship season first hand and saw an example of what she wanted to become and experience. We used that example to teach her to block shots.”
Bruins’ opponents can attest that Shielee, who is now a middle school math teacher, taught this student very well. Munger, like Shielee, is a dominant defensive presence. In the Bruins’ national quarterfinal victory over Mary Washington, she was credited with five blocked shots. She altered countless more, including some shots that were never taken, doubtless with the thought that Munger would reject those, too. Munger, like Shielee, has a chance to be part of an undefeated national championship team, this time under second-year head coach Michael Meek. Munger could even win that championship inside the same arena where Shielee won hers in 2009.
But this Bruins team is not simply a reproduction of the 2009 team. In some respects, this team may be better and Munger is a big reason why. In addition to her defensive skills, Munger has an unusual offensive skill set for Division III basketball.
She displayed those skills early and often against Mary Washington last weekend. She won the opening tip with ease, ran down the court, caught an entry pass a few feet from the rim, and spun to her left for an easy two. One of the Mary Washington fans – someone who had watched the Eagles hold all but three opponents under 50 points all season – described the series succinctly. “Wow.”
Munger had several other “wow” moments last weekend. She plays with her back to the basket, lowering her frame into the opponent and calling for the ball in the post. Once she catches the ball, she makes her move smoothly. Spin to the left for a one-hand scoop shot off the glass. Or maybe spin to the right to shoot it with two hands over the opponent. Or maybe wait for the defense to collapse toward her, and then kick out to an open shooter.
Last Saturday those shooters didn’t miss very often. The Bruins shot 10-for-19 from behind the arc and hit several three-pointers to crush any momentum Mary Washington tried to build. Three of the three-pointers came from Keisha Gordon, the D3hoops.com West Region Player of the Year. Gordon is another link to the 2009 championship team. As a freshman, she averaged 12.7 points in 31 starts for that team. As Munger noted, Gordon was also part of the visit that convinced Munger to come to George Fox.
Now Gordon is a senior and, along with classmates, Arianna Mohsenian, Breezy Rinehart-Young and Carrie Myers, that brings a different sense of ownership. “Coming in as freshmen, (Arianna and I) both got playing time,” explains Gordon. “But no one really depended on us. We looked to other people. So now, with us being in this position, it’s really cool. We’re both fortunate for the leadership we got to look at ahead of us. It’s really taught us a lot about how to lead and how to be captains.”
|Keisha Gordon and Arianna Mohsenian talk about the 2009 championship season and the potential run to another. Plus Gordon’s family should watch to learn what she wants for a graduation present.|
In addition to being a senior captain, Gordon is an outstanding player. She is comfortable driving to the rim with the ball and moving without it to get open. She can shoot threes and feed Munger with perfect passes into the post. Rueck writes, “I know I am biased but I don’t think there are two better players in D3 than Gordon and Munger.”
Rueck, who still feels a special bond with this George Fox team, will not be on the sideline this weekend like he was in 2009. In July 2010 he became the head coach at his alma mater, Division I Oregon State. The Bruins hired Meek, a successful high school coach, and everyone has prospered. Rueck was recently named Pac-10 Coach of the Year and Meek was named NWC Coach of the Year.
Meek has molded the Bruins in his own way. Mohsenian, who played for both Rueck and Meek, notes that Meek uses different tactics to motivate the team, he uses the full court press more often and he uses different half court sets.
Mohsenian goes on to say, “They’re both awesome coaches. It’s been really cool to see the differences and to be able to play for both of them. They are both awesome.” For George Fox, it would be awesome if Mohsenian, Gordon and fellow seniors Breezy Rhinehart-Young and Carrie Myers bookend their college basketball careers with two undefeated seasons and two national championships.
And who knows what success would follow for George Fox in the future. After all, success has a way of reproducing itself.