Posted: 11/06/2012 | Last updated: November 6, 2012 at 09:34 AM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – After winning 17 games, earning a two-seed in the Patriot League Tournament and hosting a semifinal game a year ago, the Lehigh women’s basketball team is gearing up for another season-long journey that will hopefully end with a fourth Patriot League championship. Head coach Sue Troyan must replace two key departures, but though this year’s team may be young, they are far from inexperienced. With the addition of four freshmen to the nine returning letterwinners, the Mountain Hawks will look to regain the Patriot League title in 2013.
After a disappointing 64-59 loss to Navy in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament on their own court, the Mountain Hawks are hoping to rebound and inject a new sense of urgency into the program’s core. This year’s squad has dealt with both success and dismay as the four seniors have won a Patriot League title en route to an NCAA Tournament berth, and suffered the letdown of an early exit from the postseason.
"I think the loss has sent a high level of urgency into our program and our upperclassmen leaders, understanding that what we've done to this point has not been enough to get us to the point where we have achieved our goals," said Troyan. "The team is highly driven to do everything within their power to put themselves in the best position possible, when the season begins, to compete and win a championship."
The Mountain Hawks lose their top two leading scorers from a year ago, as they graduated Alexa Williams and Emily Gratch in the spring. Williams averaged a team-best 12.1 points per game as well as 8.8 rebounds per game. She also led the defense, as she registered team-highs in steals (46) and blocks (43), while starting all 30 games for Lehigh. Gratch was the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 11.9 points per game and dishing out a second-best 50 assists over her 22 games of action.
This season, Lehigh will provide an even mixture of youth and experience into this line-up in hopes of achieving that perfect recipe that produces a champion. Although the underclassmen will play a role, Troyan knows that her seniors need to be the rock that keeps the team steady throughout the grind of a 29-game regular season.
"We will have an interesting mix between veterans and youth in our line-up this season," said Troyan. "I look at our entire senior class as one of the most important keys to our team’s success in terms of the leadership they provide to the group. Our Lehigh teams have been most successful when they have been led by a senior class who is totally invested in the team and in the success of the team."
Senior Marybeth Egan and junior Hilary Weaver will play the role of the point guard position this season. Both have played significant time in the past and will provide the leadership on the floor that is the key to the success of the position. Weaver is the most experienced at this spot, starting 29 games last season and logging 787 minutes. The junior averaged 3.2 assists per game which ranked her fifth in the Patriot League as she racked up a team-leading 94 on the season. Weaver set her season-high with 20 points against Holy Cross on Jan. 7 after going a perfect 2-for-2 from three-point range, 4-for-4 from the charity stripe and 7-of-9 shooting from the field. Egan did not make a start last season, but played in 24 games for Lehigh, tallying 31 assists and 12 steals. Off the bench in the semifinal game against Navy, Egan shined with a game-high 15 points, almost single-handedly keeping the Mountain Hawks close against the Mids.
The shooting guards will be made up of a combination of senior co-captain Kelly Peterson, sophomore Sarah Williams and freshman Elizabeth Jordan. These three sharp-shooters will be relied upon to present a deep threat and draw defenses to the perimeter.
"All three players possess deep range on their three point shooting abilities and have the ability to extend defenses," said Troyan.
Peterson is the team’s leading returning scorer as she averaged 9.5 points per game as a junior and dropped a team-high 43 treys, ranking her ninth in the Patriot League after shooting the three at a .326 clip. Peterson is also the most experienced of the group, playing in 25 games and making 12 starts last year. She feasted on Patriot League competition, averaging 11.4 points per game against league-foes, while her season-high 19 points came against rival Lafayette on Feb. 18, as she made a season-high eight shots from the floor en route to the stellar performance.
Williams logged significant playing time, seeing action in 29 games and registering 332 minutes in the backcourt. Williams logged double-digit performances against Colgate and Bucknell last season, scoring 14 points while knocking down a season-high six shots from the floor against the Raiders, before dropping 11 on the Bison, including going 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. She averaged 3.8 points a year ago as a freshman and hopes to continue to develop throughout her sophomore year as an important component of the outside game of the Mountain Hawks.
The newcomer to the group is freshman Elizabeth Jordan from Roscoe, Ill. Jordan was a 1,000 point scorer in high school, dropping 300 career three-pointers and shooting the deep ball at a 41% clip. She will hope to learn from the experienced members of the group and possibly provide that youthful spark to the Lehigh offense.
Led by sophomore Katie O’Reilly, the Mountain Hawks’ wing players will look to draw from the multiple talents of these athletes that include a variety of scoring opportunities, a presence in the rebounding facet and also hard-nose defensive play that can lock down opposing offenses. O’Reilly logged the most playing time of the group last year, starting 29-of-30 games and is the second leading returning scorer as she averaged 6.4 points as a freshman. She scored in double-figures six times last season, most notably a 14-point performance in the team’s fourth game of the season against Saint Peter’s in which she knocked down five shots from the floor and pulled down eight boards en route to the 64-48 win in the home-opener.
She will team with senior co-captain Becky Guman, who played in all 30 games a year ago, averaging 1.3 steals per game which ranked her ninth in the Patriot League. Both O’Reilly and Guman registered over 100 rebounds as the duo combined for 227 on the season. Guman displays and executes the factors that win games unnoticeably as her season-high five steals and nine rebounds played a crucial role in the 10-point victory at Lafayette late in the season. She has also been able to contribute on the offensive end of the court, scoring a season-high eight points on .667 shooting from the field and foul line in Lehigh’s 56-47 win over Army last February. Guman will also be looked upon to provide leadership this season to the underclassmen as she, along with Peterson, have earned the distinction of the team’s 2012-13 co-captains.
Freshman Amina Affini from Wilmington, Ohio will provide youth to the group as the two-time high school captain average 12.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game her senior year. The 6-0 guard will hope to contribute a mixture of offensive and defensive help to the Mountain Hawk line-up should Troyan call on her.
"They (O’Reilly, Guman and Affini) are athletic wing type players who have the ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor with their offensive and defensive skill sets, said Troyan. "They can be lock down defensive players, rebound the ball well on both ends and score in a variety of different ways."
The forwards will be led by the experience of senior Sarah Pearce and junior Lindsay Hoskins but could also include freshman Elizabeth Sharlow,as the versatile athletes will stretch defenses with the ability to connect on the long-ball, play off the dribble and also underneath the basket. Pearce will provide the leadership as the senior played in 29 games, making 11 starts last season. As a junior she average 4.1 points per game and pulled down an average of 2.6 boards per contest, while also connecting on 14 treys. Pearce has shown the ability to score the ball as her five double-digit performances exemplify, but she can also contribute on the defensive side of the ball, pulling down five or more rebounds in seven of her 29 games last season. She twice scored a season-high 13 points a season ago, both performances coming just two weeks apart in November.
Hoskins could see an increased role this season as the junior played in 20 games last year, averaging 3.8 minutes per game. She set a season-high with six boards in the Mountain Hawks’ 63-44 win over Wagner on Nov. 27, a performance that also included two steals. Throughout her limited playing time, she grabbed 20 rebounds for the Mountain Hawks as the 6-1 guard/forward can provide inside assistance in the rebounding and defensive aspects of the Lehigh program.
Sharlow is the freshman of the group, coming to Bethlehem from Edison, N.J. where she was a 1,000 point scorer at Bishop Ahr High School. She also set single-season school records in rebounds (326) and made free throws (147), while earning a McDonalds All-American nominee her senior year. Sharlow finished her high school career with 1,563 points and 1,102 rebounds, both school records.
"All three forwards are extremely versatile in their abilities to play inside and out," said Troyan. "They can extend defenses with their three-point shooting, but also can play around the basket."
The centers have accumulated the least amount of experience of all the positions, but can provide the biggest spark as they have yet to be fully unleashed on the floor. Juniors Alexandra Yantzi and Marisa Repasch combined to see action in 24 games last season, tallying a total of 49 minutes between the two. Yantzi saw the floor in 15 games, scoring 10 points, pulling down nine rebounds and went 4-for-12 from beyond the arc, showing she too can hit the deep ball.
Repasch played in nine games as a sophomore, spending her year being seasoned and learning from those that came before her in preparation for her chance to step on the floor on a regular basis.
The newcomer to the group is the 6-3 freshman Kerry Kinek. The local product comes out of Allentown Central Catholic where she was a two-time Morning Call Player of the Year recipient, 1,400 point scorer, two-time All-State award winner and Lehigh Valley Conference MVP.
"Like our forwards, all three centers are very versatile in their offensive skill sets to play around the basket and facing the basket," said Troyan. "They have the ability to be a strong scoring threat in our offense and have the ability to be a rebounding and defensive presence with their athleticism and length."
Troyan’s squad is primed and ready to climb back to the peak as Patriot League champions, but they know that road does not come without sacrifice, determination and dedication to the team and the mission. The 2012-13 brigade has experience the jubilation of a championship in recent years, but the heartbreak of defeat is what drives most of the players to rise back to the pinnacle of the Patriot League.
The quest for the crown starts Nov. 9 with a trip to The Golden State to take on the California Golden Bears inside Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. at 7 p.m. PT (10 p.m.ET).
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