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VOL. 44 | NO. 5 | Friday, January 31, 2020

Harmeyer’s quest: Each rebound ‘going to be mine’

By Chip Cirillo

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Belmont’s Ellie Harmeyer (30) leads the OVC in rebounding and is one of the league’s top scorers.

-- Photo Courtesy Of Belmont

Ellie Harmeyer might be the Ohio Valley Conference’s best player, but she’s much more interested in Belmont finishing as the league’s best team.

The 6-foot Bruins forward, who was named the preseason OVC Player of the Year in October, leads the OVC in rebounding (11.5 rpg) and ranks third in scoring (17.9 ppg) through Saturday.

“One of the hardest things to do in athletics is to be consistently great, and she’s done that,” Bruins coach Bart Brooks says. “She’s not played poorly for us this year. She’s the nicest human being I’ve ever met, but on the floor she might be one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met.”

Harmeyer is hoping to lead Belmont (12-7, 7-1) to its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and OVC title. Fourth-ranked UConn is the only other program to win its last four conference championships.

“I think this team, we have a lot of different threats,” Harmeyer says. “We have so much depth. We’re still figuring things out, but we don’t want to be playing our best basketball until March anyway.”

Belmont is second behind Tennessee Tech (15-4, 8-0) and tied with Tennessee-Martin (11-8, 7-1) in the conference.

The Bruins’ overall record is misleading considering three of their losses were to No. 20 Maryland, No. 23 Arkansas and Virginia Tech (12-4, WNIT Sweet 16 last year) in November. “I think the adversity we faced early on in the season is going to help us when we do get far to the OVC Tournament and hopefully to the NCAA Tournament,” Harmeyer adds.

Rebounding is a mindset for Harmeyer.

“Whenever a shot goes up, I always have in my mind that I have to go get it and it’s always going to be mine,” Harmeyer explains. “So I think that just having a mindset that every single rebound is going to be yours is what’s helped me a ton this whole season.”

Harmeyer, a redshirt senior, ranks seventh in school history in the NCAA era with 807 career rebounds.

“I would just say her relentlessness,” Bruins forward Conley Chinn says of Harmeyer’s rebounding prowess. “She has this determination that she’s going to go get the ball and it’s kind of different than I’ve ever seen before. It’s totally selfless. Everything she does is just to get the ball for the team.”

Harmeyer has 1,354 career points, ranking fifth for Belmont in the NCAA era.

She has earned the respect of opposing coaches like Eastern Kentucky’s Samantha Williams, who was a four-year starter at Auburn.

“She’s a versatile player who can score from the outside, score from the inside,” Williams points out. “It’s really tough to figure out what to take away from her because if you take this away from her then she goes to the next thing. So she’s a tough matchup for anybody in the league.”

Bria Bass was one of several EKU players who guarded Harmeyer during a 68-48 loss at Belmont on Jan. 16. Harmeyer posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Bass and Harmeyer have similar playing styles.

“She does basically everything I do, so it was a great matchup and she’s very physical, which is something I love about her,” Bass says. “It’s like I’m literally looking at myself and trying to guard myself, and it’s amazing. She likes to get down and dirty, which is something I like to do.”

Harmeyer, who wears a brace on her left knee, overcame a cartilage/meniscus injury early in her career.

“I had surgery at the end of my true freshman year and then I tried to rehab and come back, but it ended up not working so I had to redshirt my sophomore year,’ Harmeyer says. “It was a wear and tear kind of thing and then one week it swelled up like a balloon.”

Harmeyer says her knee is 100% recovered, but Brooks says she plays through pain even though she never complains.

One of the biggest highlights of her career at Belmont was playing alongside her sister, Hannah, now a color commentator for ESPN+.

“I don’t think a lot of sisters get to say they’ve been to four NCAA Tournaments, have four OVC championships,” Harmeyer says. “We get to tell our kids that someday, and we get to tell them about all the memories we made here, so I think that’s pretty special.”

Both sisters graduated last spring with nursing degrees. Their parents, Don and Kathy, are at most games, home and away. The Harmeyers’ hometown is Kenosha, Wisconsin, but Don is able to work remotely for his accounting job.

Ellie graduated Shoreland Lutheran High School in 2015 as Kenosha County’s career scoring leader with 1,561 points although three players have passed her since then.

Harmeyer started this season with a great game as she scored 20 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in a win over Chattanooga in the opener. “I feel like every single time I went to the basket the ball really just bounced my way that game,” recalls Harmeyer, who is tied for sixth nationally with 10 double-doubles this season.

Brooks says her strong rebounding is due to great vision, positioning and aggressiveness.

“She won’t outjump probably anyone in the league,” Brooks notes. “She is probably a little quicker and stronger than people realize, but it’s so much about her wanting to get the ball. It’s really her desire.”

Harmeyer ranks in the OVC’s top 10 for free throw percentage (79%) and field goal percentage (45.4%). She leads the league in defensive rebounds (8.6 rpg) and is fifth in minutes played (22.4).

Brooks knew he had a special player during his first season at Belmont in 2017-18. “She was coming off the bench and we had a couple injuries to starters,” Brooks says. “So Ellie stepped in as a starter during two games, we won them both by one possession, and both games she got an offensive free throw rebound that sealed the game for us.

“She literally got the ball because she was tougher than everyone on the free throw line. It wasn’t like the ball bounced to her.”

Harmeyer’s biggest challenge this season is learning how to adjust when defenses put their focus on containing her. Many opponents double-team her. Her 3-point field goal percentage of 24.6% isn’t as good as past years, but Brooks thinks it will come around.

Some of Harmeyer’s best traits don’t show up in the stats.

“When the game is on the line, you want Ellie on the floor,” Brooks adds. “Like, the competitiveness thing. Moments where there is a loose ball and it’s not going to go in the box score, but Ellie gets it.

“Ellie, I think she probably leads our team in charges taken over my three years here. There are so many little things she does. She’s smart, she knows where she’s supposed to be. She’s like a great glue player who’s shining beyond just being a glue player, which is really cool to see.”

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