Still amazed at being selected to the all-Region II Tournament team, Northeastern A&M sophomore forward Katy Cooper hopes to step up her game as the Lady Norse begin play Tuesday in the opening round of the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Women's Division I National Tournament in the Salina (Kan.) Bicentennial Center.
"I was surprised at being named to the Region II all-tournament team," the 6-2 veteran from Stella, Mo., said. "I didn't think I played that well, but we won and that really is all that matters."
Cooper is part of a Jim Rowland-coached squad that will be making their first appearance (but NEO's ninth overall) in the 16-team, double-elimination tournament.
The 11th seed Lady Norse carry a 23-9 season record to Salina after upsetting three-time Region II Champion Northern Oklahoma College-Enid last Sunday in the finals at Shawnee.
"I thought I played pretty good defense during the tournament, but I want to pick up my offensive production going into the national tournament," Cooper said. "My role on the team doesn't seem to be as big as some of the other players on this team."
Prior to the start of the regional, Cooper was selected by coaches in the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference as a third team member of both the all-conference and all-region teams. Through 32 games, Cooper leads the Lady Norse both in rebounding with a 9.4 average and with 43 blocked shots. She ranks fourth in scoring with a 6.6 average.
"My job on this team is to rebound and block people off the boards," Cooper said. "I understand that if I control the boards on the offensive end, then we're going to get second and third shots while if I grab some defensive boards, then the other team isn't going to get second or third shot chances."
During her freshman season, Cooper led the Lady Norse with a 6.7 rebounding average while scoring 6.3 points per game and making 59 blocked shots. She currently ranks third in NEO school history with 104 career blocked shots.
"I've got to start moving more in our offensive scheme and stop standing around," Cooper said. "If I work harder to get open I think I can put more points on the board."
According to coach Rowland, everything that Cooper does defensively has a positive impact on the team.
"If Katy had more confidence in her shot, so would be one heck of a ball player," Rowland said. "If she realized what a little more work would mean for her on the offensive end, then she could write her own ticket once we're through with the tournament.
"But, over the last two years Katy has really come up big for us on the defensive end with her blocked shots and rebounds," Rowland said. "While in the paint she understands help and does the little things that help us. She knows her role and she plays it well."
Last year Cooper struggled with offensive rebounding because she was in foul trouble a lot.
"I looked at her stats from last year and the reason her rebounding average wasn't higher was because she was in a lot of foul trouble," Rowland said. "She was called quite a bit for going over the back on the offensive end.
"That's where maturity has really paid off for her because she has learned to use position to grab rebounds off the glass," Rowland said. "She's also developed a mental toughness and is a blue-collar kid that doesn't mind to work hard and get on the floor after loose balls.
"She lays it all on the line and uses grit and grind to get through a game," Rowland said. "Katy may not have had a good offensive production in the regional, but she has the ability to step up and produce once she's on the big stage. She just needs to take what is given to her and not try and force things."
Cooper has worked hard all week at slowing down and not trying to rush her shot.
"Once Katy relaxes and takes those pull-up jump shots or knocks down some mid-range shots, she'll be just fine," Rowland said. "If she gets into a scoring rhythm, then people better watch out because she could be one of the players that gets us to the finals."
The Lady Norse begin their quest for a national championship at noon Tuesday against No. 6 seed New Mexico Junior College of Hobbs.
The Lady Thunderbirds enter the tournament with a 29-4 overall record.