|Scranton coach Trevor Woodruff has a lot of talent at his disposal this season.
Photo by Dan Ceccacci, University of Scranton
There are days when the shots just don’t go in, even for the nation’s third-ranked team. It pays, then, not to be one-dimensional.
Saturday was one of those days for Scranton. The Royals shot well below their season average at Elizabethtown. It was the type of game that might make some teams throw their hands in the air, declare it not their day, and resolve to play better next time out.
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That, however, would not be the type of attitude you’d expect from a team working on its second straight perfect season. The Royals, therefore, clamped down defensively, holding the Blue Jays 10 points beneath their season average to win 51-50 and keep their record unblemished through 13 games.
“We play a certain style – we’re a good-shooting team,” said second-year coach Trevor Woodruff. “Saturday was just not a good-shooting day. We stress defense every day in practice. You have to have that for the days the shots are not going in.”
It didn’t hurt that E’town tends to play low-scoring games and has only one player, Emily Martin, who averages double-figure scoring. Still, the Royals held the Blue Jays in check without their designated defensive stopper, freshman Emily Sheehan, who missed her second game with a foot injury.
“She’s been given the best perimeter player on every team (to guard),” Woodruff said. “Her significance was that she understood her role. She accepted her role as a designated defender, and we’re going to miss that until she gets back.”
Sheehan and classmate Mackenzie Yori earned starting jobs in pre-season and had started every game until Sheehan’s injury, which Woodruff said will keep her out a few more weeks. The two freshmen are the de facto replacements for two of last year’s captains, Jaclyn Gantz and Noelle Alicea. Those two formed a quintet along with current stars Alexix Roman, Sarah Payonk and Bridgette Mann that started all 31 games for Scranton last season.
Payonk, Mann and Roman boast a long list of all-conference/region/America honors, so it would be natural for Sheehan, Yori and other younger players to try to simply blend in and not get in the way of the stars. Woodruff, however, made it clear that the Royals needed more from them.
“They’re talented players, and we do throw a lot at them,” Woodruff said. “At this point, we’re certainly happy with them. Having three all-region-, All-America-type players has been helpful, but three is not enough. We’re fortunate to have them, but expecting them to do everything is asking for trouble.”
Mann, the Landmark Conference and Mid-Atlantic Region rookie of the year last season, has bumped up her scoring, rebounding and assist averages this season. Helping her improve has been the self-awareness she has gained from playing with two starters who remind her of the position she was in just one year ago.
“I personally just love playing with Mac (Yori) and Emily, when she was healthy,” Mann said. “Both are just stepping in and playing at a mature level. I’m learning a lot from it, too, because I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know as a freshman compared to how much I know now.
Woodruff said he knew early his team was going to come together as quickly as he had hoped. The Royals’ second game was at Rochester, ranked seventh in preseason and still No. 23 as of this week. Payonk, as she often does, put up the big numbers (21 points and 14 rebounds), but Yori played 38 minutes in her second college game to spearhead an effort that held the Yellowjackets to 31-percent shooting in a 63-59 win.
“I wasn’t sure we were ready to win a game like that,” Woodruff said. “Especially considering how early in the year it was; starting two freshmen and bringing a third (Makenzie Mason) off the bench. I just thought we showed a lot of maturity. Down the stretch, we just made all the plays, all the free throws, all the defensive stops. It cemented in my mind that if we continued to win that way, we could be competitive on the national stage.”
That is looking like an understatement at this point, and Woodruff and his players embrace that stage. They wouldn’t be in Scranton if they didn’t.
“For me, I wanted to go to a school where it would be a challenge every day at practice,” Mann said. “It’s fun to play with a target on your back. I think I speak for everyone when I say that. Coach always says there’s no garbage time in good programs. We always have to be ready to play Scranton basketball all the time.”
Royals not alone at 13-0
Scranton is not the only 13-0 team in the Mid-Atlantic. Mary Washington reached that same record Saturday with a win at Penn State Harrisburg. Kendall Parker put the game away with 19 points in the fourth quarter on her way to a total of 26. That’s the same number she scored two nights earlier in just 22 minutes against Salisbury. Numbers such as those are the reason she was named CAC player of the week for the second time this year. A showdown between UMW and Christopher Newport, also 13-0, is still a week away.
Albright remains atop the Commonweath at 5-0, half a game ahead of Lycoming as of Tuesday. The two will meet Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Reading. The Lions’ DeJuan Smith is the CC player of the week after his red-hot shooting yielded 41 points in wins over Hood and Lebanon Valley.
On the women’s side in the Commonwealth, Sara Tarbert became the leading scorer in Stevenson history last week. She scored 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting against No. 24 Messiah, though the Mustangs fell a point short, 68-67. She followed that up with 17 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Lycoming to seal her fourth player-of-the-week award of the season.
In the Centennial Conference, the F&M men will visit Swarthmore Saturday at 3 p.m. The teams were picked to be the top two in the conference in preseason, but while the Garnet has lived up to that billing, the Diplomats have struggled, entering play Tuesday at 1-4 in the conference.
A pair of 6-foot freshmen are doing their best to keep Ursinus in the hunt for a slot in the Centennial women’s tournament. Lydia Konstanzer scored 26 and grabbed 15 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Johns Hopkins and was named player of the week. She has averaged just over 20 points per game since becoming a starter five games ago. Her numbers were augmented Saturday by Tori Suler, who scored nine points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked six shots.