|Leah Springer averages 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, which places her in the Commonwealth Conference's top 10 in both categories.
Photo by Messiah College athletics
By Phil Soto-Ortiz
The shots just weren’t falling for Messiah.
The Falcons, wiser and more experienced than they were when Albright beat them earlier this year, were running their offense and getting open shots, but the points weren’t coming, and they fell behind 11-2 quickly as they missed 11 of their first 12 shots, including three layups.
“I don’t know if it was nerves or whatever,” junior center Alecia Rohrer said. “As we went along, our confidence was fine. We were getting good lucks, and it just wasn’t going our way.”
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The Falcons, now 22-2 after rallying past Albright, have plenty of reason to be confident.
“The last two minutes of the first quarter, as we made shots, we sort of got back into it,” said head coach Mike Miller. “We hit a few shots, and I look up, and it’s 18-18 (Messiah actually led 18-17), and it’s like, OK. As a coach, I always believe that, at the end of the day, whoever makes outside shots is going to win.”
His Falcons proved his theory for him. Jen Fairbanks, Leah Spring and Kristen Smoluk each hit a three in the first 3:06 of the third quarter, sparking Messiah to a 65-57 win over the Lions and sole possession of first place in the MAC Commonwealth with a week left in the regular season. The Falcons can clinch first place outright Saturday with a win over Lebanon Valley.
“I can definitely say this win was very special,” said Kaitlyn Hoff. “As a senior, we’ve had an interesting history with (Albright). We haven’t won a lot of games with them. But if we drop the ball this week, it won’t even matter that we beat them. But I would say that that game, we prepared like it was a championship. It’s just a really good preview of what’s to come in a few Saturdays.”
She referred, of course, to two Saturdays from now, when the Commonwealth championship will be decided – in Grantham, if the Falcons beat LVC or Albright loses. It would be a fitting end to an impressive season. Messiah’s only losses have come against Albright and Scranton, which is now No. 13 in the nation.
The Falcons got off to a hot start despite losing starting center and double-double machine Alecia Rohrer to a sprained ankle in the season opener against Johns Hopkins.
The injury pressed Springer into a temporary starting role, one which was not in Miller’s plans for Springer's sophomore season. Springer responded by averaging better than 22 points and 11 rebounds in six starts as Rohrer sat out four games, then worked her way back into the swing of things.
|Alecia Rohrer is averaging a double-double at 13 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.|
Once she returned, Messiah had the enviable tandem of the 6-foot-2 Rohrer, a prototypical low-post type, and the 6-foot Springer, who runs the floor, can make outside shots and still, with her height, racks up rebounds.
“We’re extremely blessed to have them,” said Hoff, the Messiah point guard who is fifth in the league in assists. “Any chance I get, I want to throw the ball to them. Last year it was with a different set: Alecia and (Gillian Glackin). Leah has really filled that role. Coming off the bench, she does an awesome job of just bringing energy. She’s an energy kid.”
That’s what Miller planned for her to be. Messiah had two starting spots to fill this season around Hoff, Rohrer and Maci Thornton. Miller opted for Smoluk and Fairbanks, mostly, he said, because they frustrate with defense – preparing the ground for Springer’s offense.
“Jen Fairbanks is one of those kids who can defend the other team’s best player,” Miller said. “Then, as we wear them down, Leah comes in and gives us that offensive spark.
“But she’s really picked up her defense. That does give us an edge with our depth. She’s learned to use her length and she’s been able to do a better job on the perimeter. Her first year-and-a-half, she was getting blown by a lot.”
Miller praised Springer’s maturity in accepting her bench role. Springer, who averages as many minutes as Rohrer at 25.4, said sitting and watching a game’s first few minutes actually helps her.
“It helps me to be ready when Coach puts me in,” Springer said. “I can see how the other team is going about the game. Also, I think it’s really fun to get excited when they all get off to a great start.”
As for Rohrer, spraining her ankle and missing games for the first time in her college career was not what she had in mind, but she made sure to use her time as a spectator well.
“Just to be able to watch games with one of our student assistants, Arkel Brown – he mainly works with forwards. He was really good to be able to bounce ideas off. Like court awareness. I’m more alert now about different things. In the heat of the game, you don’t always realize what the guards are doing, seeing how the defense does things from a different perspective, instead of playing against it.”
Whatever the down time did for Rohrer – and the unexpected starts for Springer – seems to be working. They are first and fourth in the league, respectively, in rebounding and fourth and seventh in scoring. They’ll be a handful in the conference tournament, especially if they hold it in Grantham, where they are undefeated this season.
LVC Lights up Lyco
Sam Light became just the third player in Lebanon Valley history to reach 2,000 points. He reached that mark Tuesday in the Dutchmen’s win at No. 20 Lycoming. It was the fourth loss in five games for the Warriors. Andy Orr led the way for LVC with 31 as the Dutchmen swept Lycoming. Each team has one game remaining. If LVC beat Messiah and Lycoming loses to Albright, the Dutchmen would host the teams’ semifinal matchup, but Lycoming still can win the regular-season title by beating Albright.
No. 1 with a Bullet
Muhlenberg still can achieve its goal of a fourth straight Centennial title, but it will have to do so on the road. Gettysburg came back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Mules last Thursday and sweep the season series. The Bullets clinched the top seed in the league tournament two days later with a win over Bryn Mawr.
Federici Breaks Record
Brandon Federici is the Centennial’s all-time leading scorer. He passed 2008 Ursinus grad Nick Shattuck’s record last week against Johns Hopkins. Federici enters Wednesday’s play with 1,993 career points. The only player in league history with 2,000 is a woman: 2012 Muhlenberg alumna Alexandra Chili.