Roehrig, Shimek help balance Spartan attack

Updated: April 2, 2005, 12:02 AM ET
Associated Press

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Kelli Roehrig could have played college basketball much closer to her Nebraska home.

But then she probably wouldn't be headed for the Final Four -- and neither would Michigan State.

Roehrig, an imposing 6-foot-4 center, teams with homegrown power forward Liz Shimek to give the Spartans a quality presence in the paint.

Michigan State set a record for victories and is making its first trip to the Final Four. The performances of Roehrig and Shimek could be pivotal when the Spartans (32-3) play Tennessee (30-4) in an NCAA Tournament semifinal Sunday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) in Indianapolis.

Baylor (31-3) and Louisiana State (33-2) battle in the other semifinal (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET), with the winners meeting Tuesday to decide the national championship (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).

"We feel we've got a lot yet to accomplish,'' Roehrig said. "We're playing good. We want to play great.''

That drive is what made Roehrig and Shimek prime recruiting targets early on for Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie, now in her fifth season in East Lansing.

Much of the public attention on the Spartans focuses on guards Kristin Haynie and Lindsay Bowen, both of whom grew up within 25 miles of the Michigan State campus. Both were honorable mention All-Americans this season.

But so was Shimek, a 6-foot-1 junior from northern Michigan who leads the team in scoring at 15 points a game and in rebounding at 9.1. Roehrig, a senior, averages 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds.

McCallie first saw Roehrig play for a Nebraska team at an AAU tournament in Washington between her junior and senior seasons of high school.

"She didn't score a point when I saw her play in that game,'' McCallie said. "But she played hard and she played physical. I just loved her.''

Roehrig considered playing for Nebraska and Kansas State before buying into McCallie's sales pitch and heading to East Lansing -- an 11-hour drive from her Papillion, Neb., home.

"She sold me on the program and what she was going to do here,'' Roehrig said of McCallie. "She has a great intensity for basketball and for life. She's the kind of person you are drawn to.''

Shimek, who grew up on a farm near Empire, Mich., had just a four-hour commute south to East Lansing. She was highly touted, winning Michigan's Miss Basketball award after setting state records for rebounding at Maple City-Glen Lake High School.

McCallie was impressed by Shimek's work ethic -- along with her basketball skills and ability to run the court. Once strictly an inside player, Shimek is now more versatile and has developed into a better mid-range shooter.

She's not a consistent threat from 3-point range, but will take the occasional shot from behind the arc to keep her defenders off balance.

"Liz is intensely competitive, tough and dedicated,'' McCallie said. "When you are starting a program, you are looking for kids who believe in Michigan State -- and Liz is one of those.''

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press