SIOUX CITY -- Haley Birks may not receive as much publicity as some of her more decorated teammates, but the senior from Rockwell City, Iowa, is a vital cog in the Northwestern College women’s basketball machine.
Birks contributed 12 points and three rebounds in the Red Raiders’ 76-41 rout of Briar Cliff Wednesday, which is right around normal for the veteran forward.
“Haley is a big part of what we do,” Northwestern Coach Chris Yaw said. “She’d be the first to tell you I don’t care if you say anything about me. That’s just who she is.
“She’s a real important piece, the girls will sometimes jokingly call her the mom of the team. But they mean that in a really endeared way, that’s she’s pretty special to them. She’s just kind of steady and you know what you’re going to get.”
Northwestern, despite a win over top-ranked Concordia on Saturday, remained No. 2 in the NAIA Division II national rankings released Wednesday.
It is still tied for first place in the GPAC and, although the rankings will no doubt fluctuate before national tournament time, one thing is for certain. Northwestern is among the leading contenders for a national title.
And, that’s not lost on Birks, whose been down this road many times as a fourth-year starter.
“We each realize our role on the team so I just do my best to help out my teammates,” said Birks, averaging 13.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. “We made it to the Final Four last year so I think this year we know exactly what it takes and we have the potential to make a good run.”
Birks, who has garnered All-GPAC honors in each of her three previous seasons, said this year’s team has worked hard on the minor details and it’s paid off.
“Our half-court offense has gotten so much better and our defense has really grown,” Birks said. “That makes a big difference. My dad always says defense wins championships.”
Haley was a prep all-stater while playing for her father, Dave Birks, at Southern Calhoun High School. Her mother, the former Jill Haden, played at Buena Vista University.
Northwestern, now 22-3 overall and 16-3 in the GPAC, put this one away early. A 9-0 run helped open up a 16-6 lead after one quarter and Briar Cliff (13-14, 7-12) was limited to 15 points in the first half.
Although the Red Raiders didn’t have their best shooting night, a 3-pointer by Birks early in the second quarter helped them open things up even more.
Darbi Gustafson posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Kassidy De Jong also had 13 points for the Raiders. Jada Cunningham contributed 10 points off the bench.
Northwestern scored 31 points off turnovers and limited Briar Cliff to 28.6 percent shooting.
“The kids competed hard and the longing was there, you just have to make baskets,” Briar Cliff Coach Mike Power said. “When you shoot 28 percent and turn the ball over 28 times it’s hard to win.”
Briar Cliff lost for the fourth time in its last five outings and is in danger of falling out of the eighth in the GPAC standings. Only the top eight teams make the league postseason tournament.
The Chargers have games remaining against Morningside, Dordt and College of St. Mary.