|Lycoming seniors Alex Newbold (left) and Chris Wallace have already led the Warriors to new heights in terms of their national ranking this season.
Photo by Lycoming College athletics
By Phil Soto-Ortiz
“I’m not going to miss your two seniors."
Those were the words of Arcadia head coach Justin Scott to his Lycoming counterpart, Guy Rancourt, prior to Saturday’s game in Williamsport.
Scott’s Knights got the best of Rancourt’s Warriors, but the point was well taken. The players to whom Scott referred, Alex Newbold and Chris Wallace, are a headache to opposing coaches, but a dream to their own, and the keys to Lycoming’s three-year run of championship-type basketball.
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“These are two of the best leaders I’ve ever had,” said Rancourt, now in his 10th season at Lycoming.
The proof of that is not just in their words, deeds or intangibles. It’s in their numbers, and not just Lycoming’s 19-3 record. The two Maryland natives are examples of what can be accomplished with hard work.
Each player struggled profoundly with free-throw shooting for most of his career. Wallace never topped 60 percent in his first three seasons. Newbold shot an ugly 36.2 percent his sophomore year. Neither was willing to accept that.
“As a guard, you always get to the rim a lot and get fouled,” Newbold said. “It hurts the team, not to get the easy points. Sophomore year I was around 34 percent, and I was like, ‘Wow. It doesn’t make sense. I’m close to leading the team in getting to the line. I’ve got to finish that.’”
Wallace said he lost his rhythm some time during high school and just never got it back – until earlier this season.
“I knew I got it when I went three games in a row without missing,” he said. “I knew I had it back. I went to the line just a couple of times, but I made every one for three games straight.”
That started in November, but Wallace modestly leaves out that he added a fourth game. He didn’t get to the line in Game Five, and the next game, he finally missed one – out of 10. He then stayed perfect for the next four games to complete the stretch having made 35 of 36.
It was not surprising to Rancourt.
“With Chris, he was always just short or just long,” the coach said. “He always had good technique; right on target. It leaves you scratching your head as to why he couldn’t make a free throw.”
Newbold’s problems at the line appeared they would be tougher to solve.
“With Alex, there were so many cooks in the kitchen,” Rancourt said. “So many coaches trying to tweak this or move that.”
Newbold finally tried something this season he never had before: shooting without dribbling.
“My freshman year, I was dribbling three times,” Newbold said. “Sophomore year and last year, it was one dribble. This year, I took all the dribbles out. I’m happy with the results I’m getting now.”
He should be. His percentage this season is 75.2. Wallace’s is 78.7.
“I’d love to say it was all me,” Rancourt joked. “But I can’t take credit for that. It was just hour after hour of these guys going in (to the gym) and refusing to accept they were bad free-throw shooters. I’m talking an hour every day. Free throw after free throw.”
That type of demonstrated commitment to improving an important skill make Newbold and Wallace the perfect duo to administer the “Summer Skills Improvement Sheet.” Newbold said the captains, each summer, contact each player on the team to ask them to list, in writing, three strengths of their games, three weaknesses, their individual and team goals, and …
“I think the most important question is, ‘What is your plan to reach these goals?’” Newbold said.
Newbold said the sheet is meant to be an example not just for basketball but for life beyond Lycoming.
“I want to be a captain,” Newbold said. “I don’t want to be anyone’s coach. Coach Rancourt does a good job with that. But it’s just to hold the guys accountable. “When you graduate, you’ve got to find a way to be better than the next guy.”
Newbold and Wallace are among several Lycoming players who have played with the East Coast All-Stars team Coach Rancourt founded. The team, composed mostly of Division I players, makes a trip to Europe each year to play several national teams. The Warrior captains found themselves playing alongside players from schools such as Syracuse, Notre Dame and Providence. Newbold, who went this past summer (Wallace went in 2015), played for a team coached by Larry Brown.
“He might be one of the most down-to-earth coaches I’ve ever met,” Newbold said. “You would assume he might be full of himself. He’s a huge name. But he was just amazing. He saw so many things that regular-IQ eyes would never see. It was an amazing experience.”
“I took notes on everything,” Wallace said. “I even looked each player up, just to see what their game was like. I found that there isn’t that much of a difference between Division I and Division III. It gave me confidence, knowing I could play with these guys.”
The two seniors have spent their careers winning and learning. So after Lycoming’s season-opening, 13-game winning streak ended on Jan. 3 at Lebanon Valley, Rancourt was impressed, though not surprised, to walk into the locker room and find, written on the white board: “We don’t lose. We learn.”
Rancourt has learned from losing, too.
Lycoming’s season ended last year with a second-round loss to Middlebury in the NCAA Tournament. Rancourt noticed his team lost a step somewhere around the middle of the second half of that game, the team’s second in two days – typical for the tournament. To get the Warriors conditioned to play on back-to-back days, Rancourt scheduled three regular-season tournaments this year. The Warriors have won all six of those games.
“The first game (on Nov. 17 against Penn State Wilkes Barre), we had a couple of guys cramp up,” Rancourt said. “It was a wake-up call for the guys. The next time out, the guys were more prepared. It’s given our guys a better understanding of how to treat their bodies. Whatever steps they took to make sure they were in a better place that second day, both events were favorable.”