These days there are plenty to do around West Chester University sports to keep busy. Baseball and softball are pretty big attractions to the student body. And the women’s lacrosse team is doing their machine-like thing: beating the crap of almost everyone who stands in their way. No doubt about it, these are the rites of spring here at the university.But if school stress is getting to you and you need a break from the area, head off campus to Citizens Bank Park. You get the luxury of watching Chase Utley and Pat Burrell lock and load and smack around just about anyone that stands in their way. You can watch Cole Hamels mow down everyone in his path.
Or head to the Wachovia Center and check out the Flyers, who continue to surprise teams and fans alike. Martin Biron, Mike Richards and company are giving their fans a rousing rendition of playoff hockey.
But if you want enjoy the biggest surprise in this area, the Flyers Wachovia Center partner, the Philadelphia 76ers, are playing playoff basketball. Love them or hate them, they are in the playoffs. For the first time in quite some time, basketball is being discussed in the region in late April. But the Sixers run to the playoffs is almost certainly more due to a weak conference than it is of a great team.
So if we wish to discuss basketball but want to avoid a potentially emotional let down by the Sixers, let us discuss a team that wins. Year in and year out, they are contenders. No salary cap. No $300 tickets to sit courtside. No player that won’t participate in practice or sit out of fan appreciation night. Just winning basketball.
Lurking somewhere in the shadows of the powerful Golden Rams spring and fall sports teams is the West Chester University Lady Golden Rams basketball team. They aren’t in season. They haven’t even begun what could be labeled “official practices.” They play pickup games together. They go for a run together. They sit around and just chill – together. But they are preparing for the season. On the court they hone their skills and keep in shape. Off the court they bond. Teammates have a break from one another. Families don’t. And this team is a family, in the truest form of the word.
Even though next season is months away, lessons from this past season are certain to carry on to future years in the program, beginning immediately. The 2007-2008 squad has four departures: graduating seniors Catherine Andrews, Amanda Vitzakovitch, and Katie Kline, along with a non-graduate, Lindsay Weller. All four were important parts of the team and all will be missed. However, it took all 15 players who stepped foot on the court at one point or another during the season to help the team make a run to the PSAC final four.
But with last season over and the upcoming season a long way off, the off-season is the current topic of discussion. This is the time of year where the team bridges the gap between the past and future by honing their skills and making sure everyone keeps on top of things.
Andrews was the team captain during the 2007-2008 season. But with her graduating, the torch has been passed. Entering next year Natalie Winters will be a senior and Janelle Garber a junior. Countless times over the past two seasons, Winters has fed the ball underneath the basket to Garber who laid it up for two points. Or Garber has dished the ball outside the arc to Winters who drained a three pointer.
This season, those two along with their comrades will be asked to do more of the whole pass-shoot-score-win thing. However, Winters and Garber have just started to play their biggest role yet. Next season the two teammates will suit up donning purple and gold attire and will meet the referees at center court before each game. That of course is one of the many responsibilities of the team captain, or in this case, the co-captains.
Mary-Kate Seratelli, a freshman on last year’s squad, loves what Winters and Garber bring to the table as the two new captains.
“They really give us that role model figure,” Seratelli said. “They set a great example. [On the court] they are definitely someone to look up to.”
The two are keeping an eye on everything that goes on during the off-season workouts. A stout group of young ladies entering year two on the team continues to impress everyone that watches. But as Garber knows, even captains must let everyone show their true colors.
“Once you become the captain of the team, you still need to let your team show the leadership,” Garber said.
Dana Weems, Megan Stewart and Seratelli all just completed their first season of Lady Rams basketball. Weems transferred in and is entering her senior year. Stewart and Seratelli are entering their sophomore campaigns. Always watching, the new generals are always impressed with those three players along with the rest of the young-ins.
As the only fourth year player on the team, Winters has the most trained eye to see players develop.
“The freshmen we had this year grew up,” Winters said. “They know what it’s all about. They are really going to be a big help for us next year, [either] starting or coming off the bench. They got the experience they need for the upcoming years.”
The five aforementioned players all are vital to another Lady Rams deep playoff run next season. But others will have their part to play before the story is over. The first two enter their senior and junior years, respectively.
Katie Hirschler is preparing for her third year with the team as is Bridget Carlin, though Hirschler transferred in so she is a senior. But these are two of the most high-energy, team rejuvenating players you will ever find. They can shoot the deep ball and aren’t afraid to go inside. And along with Winters and Garber, Hirschler and Carlin own the distinction of the most experienced veterans on the team.
And with a few other freshmen from this past season waiting to break out, the team is built for seasons to come and everyone who pays attention knows that head coach Deirdre Kane will recruit top notch players to help fill out the roster.
However there is one more piece to the puzzle. This off-season one player is wowing because her talent is undeniable. Her coaches and teammates know what she can do and after a red-shirt freshman year, everyone else is about to find out. Everyone agrees that she can be a difference maker and Winters took notice by saying her year around the team will pay off.
“With [Allison Hostetter] coming into the lineup, that will give us a real spark,” Winters said. “She will be ahead of every other freshman because she was around for a year and knows what it’s about.”
For a team armed with a deadly outside game and a powerful inside one, the upcoming basketball season can’t come fast enough. Talent abound in all years with more to come, the team is just biding their time until tip-off. But once the 2008-2009 basketball season rolls around, the Lady Rams promise to be ready. Until then, the off-season will have to do. But if you think this is any time off, think again. In the world of Lady Rams basketball only winning will suffice. And the best way to ensure that happens is to keep the axes out all summer. Because even in the off-season, they still chop wood.
Mike Heiman is a third-year student majoring in elementary education with a minor in literacy. He can be reached at MH606613@wcupa.edu.