|'That loss was one of the hardest things to go through last year. I don’t want to feel that again.'
Emory & Henry athletics photo
By Brian Lester
John Shelor hasn’t forgotten how the ODAC tournament championship game went down last February.
Emory & Henry lost 64-54 to Guilford, a disappointing end to a 20-win season.
Shelor and his teammates have used that loss for motivation this year, their goal directly aimed at being the best in program history. Nothing less will do.
“It set a fire under us and has fueled us to be the best we can be,” Shelor said. “That loss was one of the hardest things to go through last year. I don’t want to feel that again.”
Emory & Henry looks like a team on a mission, sporting a 10-1 mark through 11 games.
The story used to be different for the program. Shelor remembers. The senior guard recalls his freshman season when the team won only five games. Things were a little better his sophomore year with Emory & Henry going 16-12. The program continues to rise.
“It’s all about the winning mentality that we have,” Shelor said. “We come out each day with the approach to get better and be excellent. We don’t accept anything less than our best. The bar has been set high and we know what it takes to be successful.”
Winning games, contending for a conference title and battling for a spot in the NCAA Tournament are all on the minds of the Wasps.
But it’s not all about expectations that lead to hardware in the trophy case, according to head coach David Willson.
“Our expectations increase each year, but it’s not so much about the expectations people might think about,” Willson said. “It’s not just expectations in terms of how many games we win, but our expectations have risen in terms of how we do things every day. We feel like we are finding ways to improve every year and have taken our play to another level every year.”
Shelor has been instrumental in the rise of the program. The leading scorer on the team, Shelor has taken that push to be great to heart. He’s averaging 16.3 points and has learned to be a viable scoring threat without relying too heavily on the 3-ball.
After knocking down 56 3-pointers as a freshman and 67 a year later, he’s made 74 shots from beyond the arc since the beginning of his junior season.
“When I came in, all I wanted to do was shoot the ball when I was open,” Shelor said. “Coach has challenged me to attack the rim more. I’ve taken it to heart to be a more versatile player. It’s opened my shot up more and I’ve been able to create opportunities for my teammates, too.”
Shelor reached the 1,000-point milestone earlier this season and the progress he has made isn’t lost on Willson.
“He’s a guy that shoots the ball at a high level, and he’s developed his ability to attack off the bounce,” Willson said. “He’s also an outstanding defender and has really become a well-rounded player.”
Fellow senior Chase Branscomb has developed his all-around game as wells ranks second on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per outing.
“Chase is another great example of a guy who has gotten better,” Wilson said. “He’s become a much better presence in the paint and on defense.”
The two complement each other and have proven to be a formidable duo opponents have had a tough time dealing with. They have spearheaded the change in style of play as well that has seen the Wasps shift from being more post-oriented a year ago to capitalizing more on their athleticism.
“We’re not as big this year, but we are more athletic, and we’ve been able to get up and down the floor a lot better,” Willson said. “We’re putting the ball on the floor and attacking with dribble penetration a lot more. It’s giving more space for our guards to get into the paint and make plays. I give our guys credit for buying into the change and executing it.”
Success can be blinding but the Wasps haven’t allowed it to affect their vision. They plan to stay the course and continue to push forward in their quest to win a conference title and punch a ticket to the NCAA tourney.
“The most important thing is that we don’t get distracted looking at the big picture too much,” Willson said. “The thing that excites me about this team is that we have so much potential. You watch film and find things that can be improved on each week. We have great talent but feel like we can take that talent to another level.”
Shelor doesn’t disagree.
“Coach talks to us a lot about teams being satisfied being at 10-0 or 10-1, but we don’t want to be satisfied,” Shelor said. “We’re just scratching the surface of how good we can be and look forward to getting better every day.”
Nathan Fontenot produced the best performance of his career in East Texas Baptist’s 99-86 win over Texas Lutheran on Saturday. Fontenot lit up the scoreboard for 30 points, his impressive showing highlighted by six 3-pointers, as helped the Tigers go 2-0 at the Schreiner Classic. East Texas is 8-2 overall. Fontenot has thrived off his ability to hit shots from beyond the arc, knocking down 26. He’s averaging 12.9 points per game.
Eastern Mennonite won its fifth consecutive game Saturday, grinding out a 51-47 victory over Ferrum. The Royals are now 7-3. Lexi Deffenbaugh paced Eastern Mennonite with 12 points, scoring nine of those points from beyond the arc. She also racked up three steals. Only a sophomore, Deffenbaugh has been a steady contributor for the Royals, averaging 5.6 points. She has tallied 10 steals as well.
Preston Smith scored 22 points and helped Hendrix defeat Texas-Dallas 78-68 and snap a four-game losing streak Saturday. The Warriors won for only the second time this season thanks in part to Smith, who has scored in double figures three times in the four games he has played in this season. He averaged 16.3 points in December.
Meghan Lewis fueled it a tenacious defensive effort in Austin’s 63-50 win over Centenary on Saturday, nearly setting a single-game SCAC record for steals in a game. She finished with a career-high 10, one off the mark, and the Kangaroos racked up 24 as a team. Lewis, who scored seven points, has 35 steals in all this season. The Kangaroos, allowing 62.8 points per outing, have racked up 127 as a team.
Rachel Hawn connected on five of her 10 shots from the floor and scored 14 points to help Maryville win its fifth consecutive game The Scots defeated Agnes Scott 67-41 on New Year’s Eve and continue to build momentum after starting the year 1-6. Maryville is now 6-6. Hawn is averaging 11.9 points per game and shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor. The senior forward has scored in double figures in three consecutive games.