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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lady Bobcat standout headed to Bolivar

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Sports Editor

With enough individual honors to fill a small book, it's tempting to think that all the achievements bestowed on Thayer Lady Bobcat Megan Underwood must have been attained easily.

However, according to Thayer Head Coach Steve Atkisson, a veteran of 20-plus seasons at the helm of the Lady Bobcats, this line of thinking would not be true.

"It takes a lot of time to develop talent and to get to the point that Megan is at," he said. "Megan has worked extremely hard, and she's been surrounded by great teammates that have helped her be successful."

In addition to the success Underwood has enjoyed, this hard work has also paid off in the form of a scholarship to play basketball next year at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.

Underwood signed her national letter of intent April 14 in the Thayer High School cafeteria surrounded by family, friends and teammates.

"You just don't walk in and sign these papers," Atkisson explained. "It takes a lot of things to make this moment happen. This starts with a dream. Megan has demonstrated through her hard work and dedication that she has the desire to be successful, not just at basketball, but in life as well."

This hard work and dedication is what caught the eye of Southwest Baptist Head Coach Jim Middleton.

Heading into his 11th season guiding the Lady Bearcats, Middleton is the winngest coach in SBU history.

"We're really excited about Megan," he said. "The first thing I think of when I think of her is her heart, and her want to win. That's huge. Her intensity speaks for itself. She's definitely got all the intangibles to be successful."

And, as for the numbers she put up at Thayer, Middleton said, "Well, you don't score over 2,000 points in a career for nothing. She scores really well off the dribble, which is going to help us a lot. We've got some pretty good spot-up shooters here, so her ability to break people down off the dribble will fit in well with what we want to do."

Middleton is also eager to see Underwood teamed up with another standout from Oregon County, former Alton Lady Comet Amber Wheeler, an All-American at SBU this season.

"I think it could be a tough situation for our opponents with Amber and Megan on the floor at the same time," he said. "I think they will complement each other very nicely."

Known as much for academics as athletics, Middleton said Underwood should fit in well off the court as well at the NCAA Division 2 school in Bolivar.

"She's an excellent student in addition to her basketball skills," he said. "She works hard at everything she does. She certainly fits the kind of player that we want to have here; hard-working and dedicated."

This dedication was evident early in her career at Thayer and began to pay off when, as a freshman, Underwood missed leading the Lady Bobcats in scoring for the season by just seven points.

"That team (2000-01) won 16 games, which I thought was unbelievable. That was a testament not only to Megan's abilities as a freshman, but the abilities of her teammates as well," Atkisson said.

During Underwood's tenure at Thayer, the Lady Cats complied a record of 88-22, and were back-to-back-to-back district champions.

Opposing teams during this time frame knew that if they were matched up against Thayer in a tournament, it was almost a sure bet to place an L beside their game. Not counting their appearances in the state tournament, the Lady Bobcats have claimed titles in the last nine tourneys they played in, including crowns in the Lady Dawg Classic, Marshfield Invitational (Underwood was named MVP), and Thayer Winter Classic this year alone.

Finishing her career as Thayer's all-time leading scorer with 2,099 points, Underwood was named the South Central Association Player of the Year after helping Thayer to the SCA title in this, her senior year.

Underwood was also named a McDonald's High School All-American this year, and made All-District and All-Conference for the third consecutive year.

As she proved by racking up 51 points, including a school-record 17-of-17 from the free throw line in a game against Alton last year, Underwood was a deadly scorer who was a threat no matter were she stood on the court. It was guaranteed that opposing teams knew where number 15 in green-and-white was at all times.

But Underwood's value also lie in other areas.

She routinely led the Lady Bobcats in assists and steals, and was probably Thayer's best on-the-ball defender.

"Megan's just the total package," Atkisson said. "And she's had great support from the community, school and loving parents. It takes time to develop the skills that Megan has, and her parents have been behind her all the way. They've followed her all over, including a trip to Portland last year (for the Nike End of Trail Tournament)."

As one career ends and another looms straight ahead, Underwood seems appreciative of her time at Thayer High School.

"Thanks to everyone for helping me celebrate this day," Underwood said as she prepared to put pen to paper and sign her letter of intent. "I sincerely want to thank my friends, family and certainly not last, my teammates for helping me to achieve this dream of playing college basketball."

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