Southsider Voice correspondent
Katie Gearlds always will be a Beech Grove Hornet, and Kellie Kirkhoff always will be a Roncalli Rebel.
Gearlds was the 2003 Miss Indiana Basketball after leading Beech Grove to the Class 3A state championship, and Kirkhoff was a standout athlete who graduated from Roncalli last year.
Their paths have crossed at Marian University, where Gearlds is in her second year as women’s coach, and Kirkhoff, a 5-5 bundle of basketball dynamite, is a key player for the Knights.
“I’m living in the moment; I am really, really proud to be a Marian Knight, and I love what I’m doing here,” Gearlds said. “This is such a great place to be, not just basketball wise, but this university is a force to be reckoned with. I’m really blessed and fortunate to have found this niche.”
Gearlds is a legend in Beech Grove, where a street is named in her honor. She starred at Purdue and was the No. 1 draft pick of the Seattle Storm.
Her parents, family and friends attend Marian’s home games.
Gearlds was 18-18 in her first year at the helm, which began with nine consecutive road games. This time around the Knights are 18-4 and ranked No. 10 among NAIA Division 1 teams, just behind fellow Crossroads League teams Indiana Wesleyan, No. 6, and No. 7 St. Francis.
The Knights’ roster is mostly home grown. Kirkhoff is one of 10 Hoosiers on the team.
“We play small on offense; we have to play fast,” Gearlds said. “On defense we want to make other teams uncomfortable. We switch a lot and trap a lot; we have a lot of defensive schemes. Our defense is our best offense.”
In a home game Jan. 21, the Knights trailed Spring Arbor 27-15 but went on a 26-4 run with Kirkhoff scoring 11 points in less than four minutes.
Most of Gearlds’ players can play multiple positions; Kirkhoff played three positions but mostly at point guard against Spring Arbor.
“They are so versatile, Gearlds said. “I love our players because they can really stretch a defense and then play inside our outside when we have the ball. It’s always next-man-up because we have a lot of quality players.”
The Knights can crank it up on offense. In their home opener this season, they scored a school-record 135 points while hitting 79.4 percent from the field- (27-of-34) in the second half and 72.9 percent (51-of-70) for the game. Their opponent, Olivet Nazarene University, scored 124 points and led 68-66 at the half.
“That (ONU) style of play is something,” Gearlds said. “Other than calling a couple of timeouts, I didn’t really do a lot of coaching.”
Kirkhoff is playing for her fourth coach in four years. Two of her three mentors at Roncalli emphasized an aggressive zone defense, which is what Gearlds prefers at Marian.
“My thing was to guard the ball full court,” Kirkhoff said. “And that’s my thing in college – pester the heck out of the point guard.”
Her college career got off to a fast start when scoring 24 points in the season opener against Robert Morris in the Purdue Calumet Tip-Off Classic.
“I was really nervous before the game,” she recalled. “After I got going I became more confident. And then I imagined the ball going in so that really helped me to shoot the ball.”
Traveling to and from games is time consuming because of distances. Fortunately, she is outgrowing carsickness and takes naps while on the road.
Through 20 games, Kirkhoff averaged 8.5 points, No. 4 on the team, with 2.37 assists.
Kirkhoff is a second generation Marian athlete. Her parents, Tina (volleyball) and Jeff (baseball), played there. Her grandfather, Bob Kirkhoff, is a former Roncalli coach.
There was never any doubt that she would wind up at Marian.
“I love it here,” said Kirkhoff, an exercise science major. “I can’t imagine any place that would be better.”
At this time in her life, neither can coach Gearlds.