Neuvirth helps carry Creighton
Creighton senior Megan Neuvirth has done so much right in her life, she can almost seem like a made-up character. Sort of a female version of the perfect half of the Highlights magazine cartoon duo Goofus and Gallant.
"Oh, you know, she's just a normal kid," her mom, Jodi, said. But then she acknowledged, "I never had to motivate her. She's positive and excited about every challenge she takes. She's always been that way."
Yep, just a "normal" kid who, in high school, won a combined eight state titles in basketball and volleyball, also ran track, had a 4.0 grade-point average and was president of the student council.
Who, in college, was the Missouri Valley's defensive player of the year last season, is the favorite to be the league's player of the year in 2010 and already has a job lined up as soon as she's done with school in May.
"From that standpoint, it's a stress-free senior year," Neuvirth (pronounced NYE-worth) said of her future employment.
Basketball, though, has caused a bit more stress. The Bluejays are 5-4 thanks to the fact that as usual, they took on a Big 12-heavy nonconference schedule. Creighton beat Kansas State in November but has lost to Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma in its past three games.
Those three defeats are three more than Neuvirth experienced throughout her entire prep hoops career. The 5-foot-11 forward didn't lose a basketball game while at Central Catholic High in West Point, Neb., going 102-0 with four state championships.
"It was exciting," Neuvirth said with a smile, "but it definitely leads to a false hope of what all games should be like."
Actually, Neuvirth did have some experience with losing in high school: Her volleyball team went 99-3. But she also won four state championships in that sport.
So what she brought in the move to Creighton -- located in Omaha, about an hour from her small hometown of West Point -- was the kind of mentality that Bluejays coach Jim Flanery relished.
"She's our most competitive player," he said.
Not that Ms. Near-Perfection hasn't had some things go wrong, starting with a knee injury on the first day of practice in October 2005. It wasn't an ACL tear but still resulted in a redshirt season of what was supposed to have been her rookie year.
The next season, she was the Missouri Valley's newcomer of the year and the only freshman on the league's all-defensive team. But then the ACL gremlin did get her, and at a terribly inopportune moment.
Neuvirth tore the ligament in her right knee during the closing seconds of overtime of the 2007 league tournament championship game, which Creighton lost by one point to Drake. Neuvirth spent the next six months rehabbing and was able to make it back that fall for her sophomore season.
She has continued to be a standout for the Bluejays ever since. Creighton, this season's favorite to win the Missouri Valley, starts the league season Thursday against another of the conference's top teams, Indiana State.
Neuvirth leads Creighton in scoring (14.4 points per game), rebounding (7.3) and steals (27). Flanery describes her success as a defender in an interesting way. He says she's generally not assigned to the opponent's best scorer.
"She's better that way," Flanery explained. "I figure as a defender, you're wired to stay on a player, or you're more wired to be a helper. And she's the latter."
Thus, Flanery knows he'll get Neuvirth's best if she's assigned to someone who isn't the top threat. She'll take care of that and still help elsewhere.
Neuvirth says defense is just a product of want-to and effort, two things she always has had in abundance.
When she was in the midst of her high school hoops undefeated streak, she didn't give much thought to having to protect the perfection. It wasn't until her last season that she and her senior teammates really even thought about the fact that they'd never lost a game.
"You just develop a mentality, when you go that long without losing, that you are never going to lose," Neuvirth said. "Even if the other team was supposed to be better than us, we just never doubted ourselves.
"We had a talented group of players, and we felt like whatever pressure there was, it was shared among all of us. None of us felt too stressed out about it or felt like we had to carry the team."
Neuvirth grew up on a farm and played a lot of sports against her two older brothers.
"The best thing is that when you're from a small town, you can give other kids from the same situation hope that they can make it, too," she said. "My background is something I can share when we have camps, to help give girls motivation to be really dedicated to something. It develops underlying qualities that those girls might not otherwise have developed."
She interned at ConAgra in Omaha this past summer, and that's where she'll be working when school is done.
"She loves basketball, but she's also very realistic," Jodi Neuvirth said. "She knows it's going to end, and she has to enter the job world."
Before then, though, Neuvirth and the Bluejays hope they'll win the Missouri Valley tournament and earn the program's fourth NCAA tournament bid. That would be a fitting finish for Neuvirth, who gets to enjoy a senior season in Creighton's new on-campus facility, the D.J. Sokol Arena.
"Megan came from a small high school, so she was a post player there," Flanery said. "She was underdeveloped skillwise on offense when she first got to college. Yet, even then, the more I watched her, I knew we were still better with her on the court because she's such a competitor.
"Most Division I players are, but there are still levels of that. She always managed to make a lot of plays. She still does that."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.