Pioneers forge new identity

Dillon Young had six assists in Marietta's season-opening win over Hope at the Great Lakes Invitational.
Photo by Nate Knobel, Marietta Athletics

Marietta faced an identity crisis to start the season.

Sure, the Pioneers have three starters back from last year's NCAA sectional semifinalist team. But none of them are A.J. Edwards who graduated as the program’s most-decorated player.

The team had to find a new go-to guy right away since it was tested immediately at the Great Lakes Invitational with games against Hope and St. Thomas. The answer – so far – is that every player on the floor can be “the guy” when needed.

“It was something we struggled with early in the preseason," said Marietta senior point guard Dillon Young. "We knew we were a really talented team, kind of like last year, but we didn’t know who we are. We’ve started to figure out what makes us go. Everyone is worried about making winning plays and caring less about who is scoring points.”

“I think the depth has made us good over the last three years I’ve been here. Other than A.J. as a consistent scoring force, we’ve had four or five guys on every team I have been on that could get 20 points on any given night. We try not to force it or make sure just one guy is scoring for us every game. We just let it come.”

The results have been positive so far. Marietta is 5-1 with its lone loss coming on a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer against Baldwin Wallace, 73-72, on Saturday. 

“I think depth has been the strength of our program. I think we’re a tough team to prepare for just because we have so many weapons,” Marietta coach Jon VanderWal said. “We have five guys averaging double digits. Dillon is at 10 points per game and I think he is one of the best players in the league.”

Anthony Wallace leads the way at 13.9 points per game while Avery Williams (12.4), DeVaughn Wingard (11.3), Young (10.9) and Kyle Dixon (10.6) are next. Kyle Woodruff and Caleb Hoyng aren't far behind. Through their first six games, the Pioneers had five different players lead the way in scoring.

“We had 51 points at halftime against Otterbein without Dillon scoring a bucket,” VanderWal said. “We feel like we have eight or nine guys who can lead us in scoring on any given night. That’s what makes us pretty good. If a team tries to take someone away against us, we can counter with someone else.”

The collective effort produces 85.7 points per game and was enough to get the squad past Hope, Frostburg State, Bethany and Otterbein with relative ease. Marietta needed overtime to oust St. Thomas. After losing to Baldwin Wallace, the Pioneers got back on track with a six-point win at La Roche.

“All teams this time of year are in the learning phases and trying to figure out their team and what they have and what their strengths and weaknesses are. It’s always nice to learn those lessons while winning,” VanderWal said. “The St. Thomas game gave us a lot of valuable lessons. That game could have gone either way. We were fortunate to win and learn some things and hopefully grow and mature as a team from it.”

The squad’s challenging schedule finally caught up with the team in Saturday’s home setback to Baldwin Wallace. The defeat snapped the Pioneers’ 39-game home winning streak in regulation play.

“I like the schedule. I think it’s definitely good for us to get tested right off the bat and see where we’re at, learn from it and keep getting better as the year progresses. That’s something we’ve done a good job with over the past couple years,” Young said. “We’ve come a long way already, but I think we still have a ways to go to become a championship-level team. We have to keep getting better and learning how to prepare and put it into motion against teams.”

Marietta is trying to become the first school in OAC history to win the regular season title four years in a row. They face another task Saturday against John Carroll, which was picked third in the OAC preseason poll behind Marietta and Baldwin Wallace and is getting Top 25 votes.

“It’s a tough way to start league play with BW and Carroll,” VanderWal said. “It feels almost unfair how big these games are so early in the season. But, we have to go to work.”

Last season. Marietta went 16-2 in the OAC. The Pioneers advanced to the NCAA tourney, but dropped an 85-80 decision to Rochester in the Sectional Round and finished 26-5 overall. Can they advance deep in this year’s postseason?

“We’ve come a long way in the last month and a half,” VanderWal said. “I think our potential is sky high. There is a lot of room for growth. We want to keep getting better every day because we know it’s not going to get any easier.”

Rinfrette sets record in style

Congratulations to Pitt-Bradford senior guard Ali Rinfrette who became the Panthers' all-time leading scorer when she made a free throw with five minutes left in Saturday's game against La Roche. That shot gave the Rinfrette 1,611 points, moving her past Diane Eggleston (1992-96).

"It's surreal," Rinfrette said in the University's release. "It's a great feeling, especially to do it at home, in my hometown, with my friends and family here. But I'm more excited for our team, beating a team that always comes to play and has beat us for years. We're all focused on our goal to win a championship."

Rinfrette scored 23 points as the Panthers pounded perennial AMCC champion La Roche, 88-60. The Panthers' win snapped La Roche's 28-game conference winning streak. The Redhawks were the preseason favorite to win the AMCC title, which would be their eighth in a row. 

Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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