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On the shoulders of giants, Bullimore makes history

Senior center Amy Bullimore broke the ONU all-time scoring record on Wednesday in a win over Heidelberg. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

With just over six minutes left in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s road game against Heidelberg, Amy Bullimore passed the ball to Jenna Dirksen at the top of the key. She then received a back-screen from Courtney Cramer, which allowed her to cut freely to the far block. Dirksen passed Bullimore the ball and she was hacked across the arm by a Heidelberg defender as she attempted a layup.

Two shots at the free throw line.

Coming into Wednesday’s game, Bullimore was just four points away from breaking the ONU women’s basketball career scoring record. But after foul trouble limited her production in the first half, Bullimore had just two points to this point. Standing alone at the charity stripe, the senior center now had a chance to climb atop the record books.

As she’s done countless times in gyms from Ada to her hometown of Morrow, and now in a packed gym in Tiffin, she spun the ball out to herself, then dribbled it low three times.

First shot, swoosh.

After missing the second free throw, fellow senior Alexis Kirkbride corralled the offensive rebound and fired a shot from the left wing. The shot rimmed out, but Bullimore snagged the rebound and was fouled again.

On her next set of free throws, Bullimore missed the first. But on the second free throw, with another shot at history, the All-American didn’t miss.

“It was very relieving,” Bullimore said the next day, with a chuckle. “Then I knew I could just play my game how I usually do, not worrying about it.”

As Bullimore made the historic free throw and proceeded to run back on defense, the visiting crowd at Seiberling Gymnasium went crazy.

“The biggest note I think was how loud the crowd was, especially for an away game,” assistant sports information director Caleb Scott, who was sitting courtside for the game, said. “I mean it was obvious everyone there knew what she needed to break the record and when she did, the place erupted.”

At the next timeout, Bullimore’s teammates embraced her as she walked to the sideline.

“To watch my best friend of four years reach a milestone like that was unbelievable,” Cramer, the senior shooting guard, said. “I instantly hugged her right when I got a chance because her hard work and endless hours of shooting and watching film and being an awesome teammate paid off.”

Although the game had been close up to that point, as Northern was still down by one after Bullimore made her second free throw, the visitors rallied off of the momentum from the historic shot and went on a 17-4 run to end the quarter. 10th-ranked ONU (15-1, 9-0 in OAC) went on to beat Heidelberg (4-12, 2-7) by 23 points.

Later that night, Bullimore received a Facebook message. It was from Morgan Bass (formerly Morgan Dumbaugh), the previous record holder, telling her congratulations.

The torch had been passed.

***

While Bass says that she and Bullimore don’t share a personal relationship, they do know each other from afar. Bass, a 2013 graduate, remembers watching Bullimore during her freshman and sophomore seasons and thinking to herself, “Oh, she’ll be good.”

The two were in the same gym just over two weeks ago, when Bullimore and the Polar Bears made their annual trip to Lima South Middle School to help the eighth grade girls basketball team with a practice. Bass, an Ada native who now teaches health and physical education at the middle school and also coaches the eighth grade girls basketball team, said that she didn’t bring up the scoring record with Bullimore at the practice.

Even though Bullimore was clearly close to breaking it at that point, Bass didn’t mention it because she knew she wouldn’t have wanted that as a player -- and also knew Bullimore well enough to know that she probably felt the same way.

“It’s a proud moment for sure. But I guess I just haven’t brought it up because me, personally, I didn’t like when people would kind of hint at it, and I didn’t want to talk about it,” Bass said last week. “I didn’t even like to speak about it when I got the record. I knew I was close but I couldn’t even tell you, to this day, how many points I actually have as the record-holder. Let’s just focus on what the mission is and what we’re supposed to do and get the wins.”

If Bass was guessing that Bullimore shares a similar mindset, she was right.

Just minutes after breaking arguably the most recognized school record in the sport -- that of scoring -- and in a moment that, given its magnitude, could warrant a temporary flash of ego, Bullimore was quick to deflect attention from herself and move on to talking about her team.

“It is an awesome team accomplishment for all of us,” Bullimore said. “Especially as a post player, they all know they were a huge part of it.”

Arguably the most impressive part about Bullimore’s feat is that she did it while playing in Ohio Northern’s system, where balance is paramount.

Although Bullimore has led the team in scoring the last three seasons, at least five players on each of her four teams have averaged five points per game or more. That balance is largely unparalleled among most college basketball teams, where two or three players will typically carry the majority of the scoring load.

“We don’t run plays for one particular person,” head coach Michele Durand said. “You know, certainly we try to throw the ball inside to Amy and she’s a big part of what we do on offense, but we don’t do a lot special for her.”

The same rules applied for Bass, who played alongside four of the top 13 scorers in program history. And while Bass’s teams weren’t quite as dominant as Bullimore’s (Bullimore’s class is aiming for their fourth straight OAC regular season title), in the grand scheme of things, they may have been just as important.

In fact, if you ask Bass and her peers, they’d say they were even more so.

***

When ONU made it to the Elite Eight last year, the deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history, Bass watched every game. Because Northern played host, Bass met up with some of her former teammates to watch the games in person.

Just four years removed from being on that court, donning the orange and black, Bass got goosebumps as the tournament games tipped off.

Maybe it was in anticipation, yes. But maybe it was also because she knew the role she and her teammates played in all of this.

When Bass committed to Ohio Northern, she was a part of a recruiting class that “kind of changed our whole program around,” Durand said.

She was accompanied by Joanna Snyder, who would finish 12th on the all-time scoring list, as well as talented point guard Katie Mengos. She would play alongside Kara Dysert, her best friend from Ada High School that was one year older. A year later, future All-American Cenzie Yoder committed. Things were finally falling into place for Durand and a program that had suffered an eighth place OAC finish the year before Bass’s class arrived.

With the right mix of talent and leadership, the Polar Bears improved every year from 2009-2013. They went from fifth place in Bass’s freshman year to third place as a sophomore, then second place as a junior. By their senior year, the goal was to go undefeated in the OAC. Little did they know, they would not only do that, but also set the mark for the winningest season in program history to that point -- 27 wins -- a record that would stand until last season, when Bullimore’s squad started the season 30-0.

In her senior season, Bass’s group made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the program’s deepest run to that point.

“It’s kind of like a pride thing,” Bass says now. “We worked our butts off to get there, and they were struggling before then.”

Since Bass’s class revitalized the program, Northern has continued to reach new heights. The Polar Bears have won three OAC championships in the four years since, recording four straight 20-win seasons and making three NCAA Tournament appearances.

One would be remiss not to give Bass’s class at least partial credit.

“I think you can ask any of the girls I graduated with, we still take pride in how -- and I’m not going to brag -- but we started that,” Bass said. “We raised the bar. These are the expectations that Ohio Northern women’s basketball has, and this is just how it is now. This is what we expect of you.”

Just as that winning culture has lived on, built by the likes of Yoder, Bass and Dysert (among others) and carried on now by Bullimore, Cramer, and Dirksen, Bullimore now carries forth the scoring record as well. Although Bass and Bullimore may not know each other personally, they know the role each other plays as torch-bearers of one of the country’s most dominant programs.

As the starting lineups were announced before last year’s tournament games at King Horn, of course Bass got goosebumps. In some way, this was her doing.

***

In Lima South Middle School’s gym two weeks ago, Bass noticed something about Bullimore.

“I watched her come to my girls practice and she led my team that I coach, she led that whole thing. She was pretty much in charge,” Bass said. “She seems pretty vocal, which obviously a leader needs to be. And she leads by example, because of what she does on the floor and how she performs.”

That’s something that Bullimore’s improved on over her four years at ONU, the vocal leadership. Durand says that she’s able to be a vocal leader because her teammates respect her; they see the time she puts in.

READ: Through the ups and the downs, Amy Bullimore was built for this (from Nov. 17)

While vocal leadership is one trait shared by Bullimore and Bass, there is another that is more glaring: what concerns them most.

When Bass broke the scoring record in 2013, Northern was battling Hope College in an intense second-round NCAA Tournament matchup. ONU ended up losing the game, which would be Bass’s last as a Polar Bear. But Bass had a fantastic tournament -- 22 points in their first round victory the night before and 16 points in the second round, all while making history as the school’s leading scorer. Most athletes might have been satisfied.

As everyone could see in the postgame press conference, however, Bass could not have cared less.

“It was actually brought up in the press conference,” Durand said, referencing Bass breaking the scoring record. “Somebody asked her the question, and she was crying at the time because we lost, and she said ‘I wish we could’ve won. I don’t care whether I broke the record or not, I wanted us to win.’”

Last year, when Ohio Northern fell to Christopher Newport in the Elite Eight, giving Northern its first and only loss of the season, Bullimore sat in the locker room and shed tears with similar sentiment. Despite turning in a historic tournament performance, averaging 20 points and eight rebounds per game and scoring 19 in the team’s final game, Bullimore could not bear the fact that they no longer had a shot at the national championship.

More than anything, Bass, who hated discussing her scoring record as a player, and Bullimore, who “just wanted to get it over with” on Wednesday, care about winning. Naturally, they put the team first.

As Bullimore passed to Dirksen, received a screen from Cramer, then caught a pass from Dirksen to set up her first shot at history on Wednesday night, it all seemed so fitting. If she was going to break the record, there would be no isolation plays on the block. There would be no ‘clear-outs’ at the elbow to let her make history alone. They were going to do this how they had done everything else to this point -- as a team.

Two days after breaking the record, Bullimore is probably feeling relieved as the spotlight starts to fade away. However, as it turns out, the senior is now just 25 rebounds away from breaking the career rebounding record. In a few more games, she’ll have to do this all again.

Such is the price of greatness.