NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Basketball is never easy, but when your team comprises three 1,500-point scorers, they can cast such an illusion.
It was in this shadow that Ellie Harmeyer quietly worked a year ago for a Belmont women's basketball team that featured the top three scorers in the program's NCAA-era history.
But with 3,000 combined points in the form of Sally McCabe and Kylee Smith now graduated, Harmeyer has found herself in the spotlight in 2018-19. And the 6-foot junior forward appears born for the big stage.
Harmeyer has been a force for the first-place Bruins, pairing with program scoring leader Darby Maggard for a fearsome 1-2 punch. The Kenosha, Wis., native is nearly averaging a double-double at the midway point of Ohio Valley Conference play, churning out 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. She has five times this year set single-game career highs in each category – including a 26-point, 14-rebound effort at Austin Peay on Jan. 26 and a 30-point performance in Saturday's win over UT Martin.
Harmeyer's emergence has been as much mental as physical.
"I didn't have to do as much last year; I knew I just needed to be a role player," Harmeyer said. "I knew I would need to step up this year losing Sally, Kylee and Sierra (Jones). I knew I'd need to step up and I got that mentality in my head."
The breakout Bruin can trace that mental strength back to a moment of physical fragility two years ago: a season-ending knee injury during her true sophomore season in December 2017. There may be no greater test of an athlete's will than when their sport is taken from them.
Working toward recovery hardened Harmeyer's determination and opened her eyes to a new perspective on the game.
"I saw things I wouldn't have seen from the court. It was almost like watching film every day at practice," she said. "I just observed and picked up on different things that I didn't realize I needed to do to make my game better."
Harmeyer eased back into the lineup a year ago, earning a handful of starts and serving in the team's key reserve role, but she's unleashed those lessons on an unsuspecting OVC field this winter. She was named OVC Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks in January and is averaging 17.9 points and 10.3 rebounds across 10 conference games.
She also provides a tangible boost of energy with her play on the court. There may not be a more demoralizing play for a defense than a stolen offensive rebound and second-chance points, and Harmeyer has made a habit of it this season. She ranks in the top five in the league with more than three per game.
"When you grab that offensive rebounds, it's like 'Yes!'" Harmeyer said with an emphatic fist pump. "Even if you can't go back up with it, you know you just created another possession for your team. That's deflating for the defense. They've got to play another 30 seconds of defense."
And extra time defending Harmeyer is something no team wants to do this season.