It has long been said that when the going get tough, the tough get going. This saying rings particularly true in the world of sports. When the baseball playoffs get deeper into October, a pitcher rises above the rest and bears down to lead his team to a World Series title. In football, when the grind of the regular season reaches late November and all throughout December, a quarterback makes a pass that saves the season. In hockey you might see a goalie stand on his head and save a shot that took true acrobatics to stop. And in basketball, heroes rise leading their team through the brutal division schedule.In the world of college basketball, only the tournament that crowns an NCAA champion creates heroes larger than that of the conference schedule. But before a team can go dancing, they must survive the opponents within their own division. For the West Chester University women’s basketball team, that also rings true.
The Lady Rams are a team built for the conference schedule. They have size, strength, and power. They have speed and finesse. They even seem to have a knack for the flashy play that can wow a crowd and spark their team. No matter what they do on the court, none of it matters if they do not get the victory. A player can score 50 points. The team can score 100. But if the opposition scores more than the Lady Rams, their mission for that day is a failure.
To succeed when the intensity level rises, certain things must happen to maintain a winning team. But none is more important than maintaining a cohesive unit. When you go to a game early in the season and the Lady Rams are up by 30-plus points, you can look across the court and see how much fun the team is having.
Whether a player falls out of her chair or slips on the court, everyone is laughing. Or if someone is trying so hard to make a shot, that when one finally goes in, the entire team jumps for joy. If one of the members on the team is playing defense when she should pass the ball in, everyone is getting a kick out of it.
That is the benefit of being up by a large amount of points in a basketball game. But this is guaranteed to not go on all year. No way can a team win the majority of their games by outscoring their opponents by 30. It is not fair to think they would do that game in and game out. However, the important thing to remember is if you win by 49 points or only one point, the outcome is the same: one victory. And when push comes to shove, having a mental edge is important.
In a little over one month the Lady Rams will take to the court at Hollinger Field House against the Lady Marauders of Millersville. That black and gold team has been the thorn in the Lady Rams side the past couple of years. They eliminated them in the playoffs two seasons ago. Then last year they blew the purple and gold out by 20.
With a team that includes standouts Jenna Craig, Jenna Philo, and Gladine St. Julien among others, that team is built to win now. But the Marauder can only push the Ram around so long before the Ram gets pissed and decides to fight back. This might be the season that happens. If it is, Millersville could have good reason to be nervous.
The Lady Marauders were the class of the PSAC East last year and could very well again be this year. But in addition to the Lady Rams giving them a challenge for the title, the new kid on the block wants a shot too.
Shippensburg is new to the PSAC East. After playing third fiddle behind NCAA powerhouses California and Indiana, Ship moves over to the “easier division.” While the east may truly be easier, it now contains three viable contenders to the throne of PSAC champion. The Lady Raiders are led by national superstars Lauren Beckley and Kasey Gardner and they will help make the east much tougher.
If predictions hold true, Shippensburg will walk away with the division title followed by Millersville and West Chester. After them it is anybody’s guess. Melissa McQuade and Kutztown play great defensive basketball and could vie for the fourth playoff spot out of the east while Jackie Yandrisevits and her East Stroudsburg squad also promise to be a tough competitor in the east and could also contend for the playoffs.
Behind those five teams are Bloomsburg, Cheyney, and Mansfield. Bloomsburg returns their leader, Colleen Kegerreis. Cheyney made the playoffs last year after a long time away from the PSAC postseason. And Mansfield can be that pesky team that will fight to the finish despite lacking a major superstar. None of these teams figures to be in the playoff mix as the conference schedule creeps up. But as Cheyney proved last year, anything is possible and a magical run by an unheralded team is never out of the question.
So what does West Chester need to do to navigate through this treacherous schedule that also includes Cal and IUP in a couple of crossover match ups? Well, for starters they will need to play fundamental basketball. That means making crisp passes, trying to get inside for the easy lay up, knocking down free throws, and hitting the open jumpers. If they can do that on the court, they could win a couple more games than expected.
But what they do off the court will be just as vital. Keeping mentally cool, calm, and collected will be important. And that all starts with team captains Natalie Winters and Janelle Garber. Despite Winters season ending injury, she is always around the team pushing them to be better because she knows they can be. Garber helps off the court as well but her role also extends to on the court.
Dana Weems is the emotional leader of the team. Whether it’s playing Guitar Hero or eating gummies, Weems is as relaxed as they come. Another laid back Lady Ram is Allison Hostetter. She always has something fun to say and is always looking to make things more exciting. But of all the players, none may smile more than a newbie, Jill Keefer. After watching only two games, all the girl does is smile. And that is credited to the fun loving atmosphere that her teammates provide.
While the Lady Rams prepare for the conference schedule that is slowly but surely approaching they must remember to keep things in perspective. They will not always win by double digits. But winning by one counts just as much. They do not always need to be flashy. They just need to get the job done. If they take care of business by doing what they need to do, the rest will take care of itself. Playing fundamental basketball leads to winning. Winning leads to relaxation. And relaxation leads to fun. As PSAC East play nears, the team needs to stay focused and keep their eye on the prize. And they have one huge appetite for winning. After all, they are hungry.
Predicted Order of Finish
3. West Chester
Mike Heiman is a fourth-year student majoring in elementary education with a minor in literacy. He can be reached at MH606613@wcupa.edu.