Ellie won’t play. Hannah probably won’t, either.
But the Harmeyer sisters and Shoreland Lutheran graduates are still enjoying Belmont’s first-ever back-to-back trips to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The 13th-seeded Bruins (27-5) face No. 4 seed Kentucky (21-10) at 11 this morning in Lexington, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
Ellie never recovered from a knee injury, however, and decided to redshirt her sophomore season.
“It’s still an indescribable feeling,” she said. “When you’re a little girl shooting on your basketball hoop in the driveway, this is what you dream of. Playing or not, it’s the coolest thing ever.”
Hannah, who came from Wisconsin Lutheran College to Belmont last season but had to sit out because of transfer rules, has played a total of only 26 minutes her sophomore season.
“It’s still just as fun as if I were playing,” she said. “Sitting on the bench does not take away from the experience that we get from going to the NCAA Tournament. There’s what, 349 Division I schools or something like that, and we’re one of 64 teams to get to do this. There’s so many girls who played college basketball and never got to go to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re two girls who are extremely blessed and lucky we get to be in this environment.”
Belmont owns the nation’s third-longest active winning streak in Division I at 21 games, which is a school record. The Bruins also have the second-most road wins (13) in the country behind UConn.
They finished with a 16-0 record in the Ohio Valley Conference as well to become the first team since Austin Peay in 2002-’03 to go undefeated in league play and win the conference tournament in the same season.
Despite very little playing time, the Harmeyers feel they contributed.
“We look at it as that, yeah,” Hannah said. “I don’t get a lot of playing time, and yeah, I’d like to. But it’s an awesome experience that I, that she, gets to be a part of. We’ve put in the work to make these girls better in practice every single day.
“Me and Ellie are just as important as those girls on the court. We push them every day in practice.”
Just before Ellie’s final high school season, when she became the all-time leading scorer among girls in the county (she has been passed by two players since), she committed to Belmont while Hannah was playing at Wisconsin Lutheran as a freshman.
“Hannah and I have always been close, like our entire lives,” Ellie said. “We’re best friends, and we do everything together. I think when the reality set in that I was going to be eight hours away, it was just really difficult to deal with. Even her being an hour away was really hard for us.”
Hannah recalls Ellie was at one of her games and jokingly turned to her sister and asked her to come to Belmont.
“I said, ‘Yeah right, OK Ellie,’” Hannah said. “But as the time passed, and I thought about it more and more, I said, ‘Yeah, why don’t I go to Belmont, Ellie.’”
As Hannah was forced to sit out, Ellie averaged 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last year. One highlight was a 20-point, 10-rebound performance at Lipscomb on Dec. 2, and another was totaling nine points and three rebounds in Belmont’s loss to Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But also during the season, Ellie hurt her knee and had to have surgery last April. The recovery process took longer than she had hoped and was cleared to play just 4-5 minutes per game this year.
After appearing in seven games, however, Ellie decided to redshirt the season and get the whole year back.
“It’s definitely tough,” she said. “I love basketball. This is the first time I’ve ever been injured. Never in high school or any time before that. It’s definitely been hard and tough because I never really had to sit and be unable to play.
“I miss it so much.”