By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
It didn’t take long for Lizzy Jeronimus to make an impression on Pittsburg State basketball coach Lane Lord.
“I watched her play for five minutes and knew she could be a difference maker in our league,” Lord said. “The way she ran, the way she jumped and understands the game, you could tell the girl can play.
“She’s more athletic than maybe many people perceived. She’s strong, and she can play any position on the floor. From the first day I recruited her, I told her you should be freshman of the year, first team all-league.”
Jeronimus, 5-foot-11 freshman forward, certainly lived up to Lord’s expectations. She received first team and freshman of the year honors on the all-MIAA team. She’s second in the conference in scoring (15.9), 10th in rebounds (6.8) and 11th in assists (2.9). Her season totals, except for assists and steals, are slightly higher than those posted by PSU career scoring leader Leslie Dudley 15 years ago when she was league freshman of the year.
Jeronimus tallied 81 points in the South Central Regional in Topeka, and she secured the tournament’s most outstanding player award with a 35-point, 10-rebound performance in the 79-67 championship game victory over Emporia State.
“Probably the best game of my life,” Jeronimus said. “I just really wanted to win. San Antonio was in the back of my head. I’ve always wanted to cut down a net. I just told everyone I want to cut down the net, and we got to do it. It was really exciting. It was really a surreal moment.”
The Gorillas (27-5) left Saturday morning for the Elite Eight in San Antonio. They play Shaw, N.C. (26-6) in a quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bill Greehey Arena.
The left-handed Jeronimus played on two Class 6A state tournament teams at Shawnee Mission West High School, placing third in 2009 and second in 2011. She averaged 18 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals her senior season.
However, her expectations in her first college season were not close to those of her coach.
“Coach Lord told me on my visit that he thought I could do everything that I’ve done this year,” Jeronimus said. “I did not believe him at all, and then it started happening. I kept playing my game, and my teammates really believed in me. They are the reason I’ve gotten all the awards that I have gotten. They give me the ball and they have the confidence in me to do what I can do.”
Jeronimus wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, partly because she wasn’t initially interested in playing college ball. Her plan was to attend the University of Kansas with her older brother. It’s also where her mother, grandparents and uncles went to school.
“I didn’t really want to play college basketball until my junior year when I realized that after my senior year I’d be done,” Jeronimus said. “So I didn’t really put myself out there, travel to (offseason) basketball tournaments.
“Coach Lord is the only one who was persistent in recruiting me. He kept calling and kept calling and I would always turn him down. Finally in the fall of my senior year, I agreed on a visit. I came here and I just loved it.
“The decision took me a very long time. I thought about it almost every night. I came to the Pitt State-Emporia State game here, and it was such a fun game and the environment was crazy. Pitt State won, and I knew right then that I wanted to come here.”
Jeronimus’ offense has picked up since the regular season ended. She scored 30 points in the Gorillas’ 83-77 loss to Lincoln in the MIAA Postseason Tournament before averaging 27.6 points in the regional. Her 35 points against Emporia State were the most by a PSU player since Kami Scrivner tallied 36 in 2002, also against the Lady Hornets.
“Most freshmen fizzle out a little at the end of the year, but Lizzy has gotten stronger,” Lord said. “Her mental makeup is terrific. She’s a 4.0 student, she has the entire package.
“She makes every player on the team better. She’s a great passer who will not force things. She knows that if it’s a one-on-one situation, she’s going to win that battle because she has the mental toughness to do that. But if she’s double-teamed, she’ll pass it because she’s unselfish. Her best basketball is going to continue as the years go on.”
PSU freshmen stars
Season averages and shooting percentages for Pittsburg State’s Leslie Dudley and Lizzy Jeronimus during their MIAA freshman of the year seasons:
1996-97 Season 2011-12
19-10 Record 27-5
13.8 Points 15.9
44 FG percentage 53
32 3FG percentage 32
71 FT percentage 82
4.7 Rebounds 6.8
4.3 Assists 2.9
0.3 Blocks 0.8
3.2 Steals 1.0
3.3 Turnovers 2.1