Crim: With Year 1 done, Boyd’s challenge becomes elevating QU to conference contender


Quincy University women's basketball coach Courtney Boyd led the Hawks to 10 victories in her first season at the helm, but she expects and will strive for better results in the not-so-distant future. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — First-year Quincy University women’s basketball coach Courtney Boyd sat in the conference room down the hall from her office in the Health & Fitness Center and pulled out her cellphone.

On the screen was a staff breakdown of the point rating system the Great Lakes Valley Conference uses to determine its eight postseason tournament qualifiers.

“Two more wins — any two wins — and we’re the sixth seed,” she pointed out.

Instead, for the seventh time in eight seasons, the Hawks will not be part of the tourney that begins Friday in St. Charles, Mo. 

“The expectation was that we would be playing this week,” Boyd said. “Not making the conference tournament means we under-accomplished this year.”

QU wrapped up a 10-18 season Saturday with a 79-74 home loss to the University of Illinois-Springfield, the sixth setback in its final seven games and 12th in 16 contests at Pepsi Arena.

The final record is somewhat deceiving in that eight of those defeats were by six points or less — five by four or fewer — and 14 of its games were decided by no more than eight points.

A few made shots here, some defensive stops there, a rebound grabbed, or a turnover avoided, and perhaps the Hawks are game planning for a postseason opponent instead of focusing on next season.

“We had athleticism on the floor. As much as other teams? Maybe not,” Boyd said. “It was the little things, the details, that we struggled with. It was not knowing the time and score, the importance of what shot to take, who we were leaving open at a crucial point.

“Toward the end of the season, we had a couple of people get on board with what we’re trying to do going forward. That growth is huge.”

Winning is all that Boyd has known as a player, assistant coach and head coach, which made this season “a different challenge than I thought it was going to be.”

She won 20 games in her first season as head coach at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, tying the single-season program record for victories. She won no fewer than 23 games any season thereafter, compiling a 155-42 record over six seasons with a Heart of America Athletic Conference championship in 2021-22 when she was named the league’s Coach of the Year.

Last season, after two previous Elite Eight appearances, the Pride went 33-4 to win the NAIA national championship, with Boyd being named the NAIA National Coach of the Year.

That made her QU athletic director Josh Rabe’s first choice to replace Kaci Bailey, who left after two seasons to become head coach at GLVC powerhouse Drury.

However, the veteran leadership Bailey used to surge to a berth in the league tourney a year ago for the first time since the 2015-16 season left, too. All five starters, including leading scorers Beth Matas-Martin and Sarah Nelson, were gone. Matas-Martin and Gabby Burns followed Bailey to Drury.

That meant Boyd largely inherited a roster that included three freshmen and six sophomores and little Division II playing experience. There were chemistry issues to resolve. The growing pains between players and coaches were evident when the Hawks dropped their first four non-conference games.

“We started out the season not anywhere close to where I thought we would be,” Boyd said. “We needed to figure out what everybody’s role was going to be. There were some missing pieces. We weren’t sure what positions certain people were going to play.

“It’s OK, I guess, to take a couple off the chin early because I know it’s gradually going to get to where we need to be. Then, toward the second half of the season, I thought we figured out who we were. We just couldn’t turn the corner; we couldn’t get over the hump.”

Without Matas-Martin and Nelson as reliable go-to offensive threats, the Hawks often struggled to score consistently. They finished 12th in the 14-team GLVC in scoring offense, 13th in field goal percentage, 13th in 3-point field goal percentage and 3-point attempts made, 11th in free-throw percentage and 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio.

QU managed 70 or more points just eight times. Junior forward Cymirah Williams was the only player who averaged double figures at 14.4 points per game, and opponents knew collapsing on the 5-foot-11 Williams was the key to shutting down the Hawks because of their inconsistent perimeter shooting.

That defensive strategy also took away one of QU’s strengths, attacking the basket, because the lane was often clogged.

“You can’t win games at the Division II level scoring 70 points a game,” said Boyd, whose team averaged just 65.8. “That means you have to hold people to 58, 60, 63, and that doesn’t happen every night.”

QU finished in the upper half of the GLVC in every defensive category, but its youth and inexperience often cropped up at inopportune times.

The Hawks led eventual GLVC regular-season champion Lewis for nearly 29 minutes before losing 76-70. They lost twice to runner-up McKendree by a total of 10 points. They had defending champion and third seed Drury on the ropes before losing by four on the road.

“I think the thing that was holding us back the most was we never really had that vocal leader we had hoped for,” Boyd said. “We had vocal leaders on nights when things were going well for us, but we did not have the vocal leader on a consistent basis if things weren’t going well.”

Boyd hopes to use the offseason to retool the roster, build depth and continue to develop a winning culture like she had at Clarke. Every player is eligible to return, although some likely won’t.

Finding another post player to complement Williams and 6-foot Acheampomaa Danso is one wish. Signing a point guard to share ballhandling duties with Mikayla Huffine so Mariann Blass can spend more time off the ball is another. Players who can score more consistently from the perimeter are a must.

And, of course, Boyd hopes to see improved play and maturity from returning players who logged important minutes this season.

“We have a couple of freshmen we feel really good about coming in, but they’re freshmen, so they’re going to take a little bit of time,” she said. “We are this close to having a couple of transfers we feel really good about who could fill some of those voids.”

Boyd’s recruiting preference is to focus more on potential four-year players than rely on the “quick fix” of transfers.

“If they come in as freshmen, they learn as freshmen, and if you have the right people above them, you’re just re-teaching and fine-tuning the next three years,” she said.

“It also helps with the environment we create in the gym. If you want Pepsi Arena full, then you need to have players that everybody knows and wants to come out to watch play.”

That strategy includes making QU a destination for local players, and Boyd knows winning will be the greatest sales pitch.

“Who wants to stay around home and have their hometown friends and family watch them win 10 games?’ Nobody,” she said. “We have to have the right product; we have to be better than 10 wins.

“I think the closer to Quincy we can get, the better off we’ll be because there’s still that small-town love of the game. Having people in the stands and having that family atmosphere is very important. We need to build our community base.

“That’s the perfect plan. How that falls into place, we’ll see.”

Boyd wants the program to return to being a mainstay in the Division II national tournament. QU has made 11 appearances this century but none since 2015-16.

That means flipping the script on eight straight losing seasons.

“One or two wins will turn the corner,” she said. “When we win a buzzer-beater against the No. 6 team in the nation, or we win by five against the No. 1 team in the conference, that’s when we’ll start to see what it takes and what it feels like.

“Those haven’t been the expectations for, what, eight years? In (the players’) eyes, making the conference tournament is a great goal. Winning the conference tournament and going to the national tournament, that’s the goal you want to have, right?

“We’ll get there. They’re not sure how but we’ll get there. That’s a guarantee.”

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