THE STARTING LINEUP: COLONIALS IN CALI
Thanksgiving is truly a special time of year, a time to spend with family and to give thanks.
For the last several seasons, the Robert Morris Colonials women’s basketball team has spent Thanksgiving together as a basketball family, traveling and participating in events such as the Florida International Thanksgiving Tournament in Miami and the Shareslo Holiday Classic in California.
This year was no different, as the Colonials spent the holiday on a five day west coast trip, not just to play basketball, but to give back to the community and to grow together as a team…
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Sunrise is still an hour or two away, but already members of the Colonial travel party are scrambling in the early morning hours of November 20th to prepare to meet for a 6:05am bus ride to the airport. The Colonials are no strangers to travel, annually they are one of the most traveled teams, and rack up the most miles, in the league. However, being used to travel doesn’t make it any easier to get up and out in the early morning hours while it’s still cold and dark outside.
It’s not easy this year, in particular, for Robert Morris head coach Charlie Buscaglia, who is leaving behind his newborn son, Saso. “It was tough for me this year because of the newborn baby, to go away for Thanksgiving week,” said Buscaglia, “but we are very blessed to be able to travel and do this.”
After a six hour cross country flight (which includes a brief stop in Chicago) the Colonials arrive at LAX in the early afternoon, west coast time, with a day of beach activities and film review ahead of them.
While the Colonials will certainly be enjoying many of the great sights and activities the Los Angeles area has to offer over the next few days, it’s not lost on Coach B, or the team, that the most important opportunity will be the one coming up in just two days, on Thanksgiving morning. The team will be volunteering at the Westside Thanksgiving Community Dinner. “People perceive it as going out and doing the normal, typical things you see on social media like going to the beach or going to Disneyland. Those are part of the trips, you do want to soak up the enjoyment and have your fun,” said Coach B, “but then it’s important for us and the things we are doing to go in and get to know the place you are spending time at in a more in depth way. I always like to make sure that we are serving while we are out there.” The annual event provides clothing, haircuts and shaves, blankets, doctors, and resources to veterans, low-income families, seniors, homeless, and anyone who is alone on Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
After a morning practice at the University of La Verne, the Colonials are back on the bus and arrive at the happiest place on Earth…Disneyland! The team will have several hours to roam the park and take in the sights and sounds of Walt Disney’s original theme park.
“As a coach, I’m always talking about growing and maturing and developing, but I told the players ‘Today when we go to Disneyland, I want you to know that it’s okay to be a kid again!’” said Coach B.
During their afternoon at the park, the players were able to bond with each other and get swept away in the Disney magic. The Colonials roster is an eclectic group of talent, with players coming from all over the world, so for many, this would be their first Disneyland experience.
Among those experiencing Disneyland for the first time was Colonial senior guard Nia Adams.
“It definitely was a lot of fun, we were able to become a kid again,” said Adams. “My favorite part was definitely the parade at night, seeing all of my old favorite Disney characters from my childhood. It was very exciting to see.” The majority of players recalled Space Mountain as their favorite ride, while some on the team had a celebrity sighting, running into 13 Reasons Why actress Alisha Boe as she made her way through the park.
As Coach B would explain, there was some damage done during this Disney excursion, mostly to his wallet, “I went a little crazy, I bought like three of those onesies, I bought a sweatshirt for myself, I bought my wife shoes, I just got a little crazy…”
Thursday, November 22, 2018
At 9:30am on Thanksgiving morning, the Colonials arrived at the West LA Civic Center ready to volunteer at the Westside Thanksgiving Community Dinner. As Coach B described, looking for opportunities to give back and help others is something that is very close to his heart, “I knew that going in, this would be perfect for our trip to LA, a way for us to go out there and put others first. It’s in my heart and it’s one of the most important things that we have in our lives.”
Coach B described the various tasks that the players assisted with during their time at the dinner, “Everyone got a chance to do a little bit of everything, helping people pick out clothes, the right pants sizes, families were coming in with little kids or elderly who needed assistance. We were picking out clothes and sitting people down at tables. You could see how special it was for these families, this might be the only day of the year where somebody is serving them like this.”
“The opportunity to help people was really huge,” said Adams, “Our team loves to help people less fortunate than us, and given the opportunity to help them really opened all of our hearts.”
After giving back, the Colonial traveling party gathered at the Sea Level Restaurant at the Redondo Beach Hotel for a Thanksgiving dinner of their own. While enjoying their meal, the team couldn’t help but reflect back on their day of service. “It was great, it was a family moment that gave everyone a chance to be together,” said Adams. “The dinner we had that night really felt amazing,” said Coach B, “After we sat down and were getting ready to eat, we talked about being grateful and thankful. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about, putting others first and giving.”
Friday, November 23 & Saturday, November 24, 2018
Finally, the Colonials would take to the court for a pair of games, first on Friday against SMU, and then on Saturday against Loyola Marymount.
The Colonials would force 20 turnovers against the Mustangs, and found themselves in a tied game with under four and a half to play. SMU would finish the game on a 10-5 run to come away with the win. Megan Callahan would lead the Colonials with 13 points.
The next day, against the Lions in the third place game, Robert Morris would take a 33-29 lead into the half, but LMU would win the third quarter 13-4 and pull away for the win. Nneka Ezeigbo led the way with 16 points and 6 rebounds, earning a place on the All-Tournament Team.
While the Colonials would hop on the red eye back east empty handed in the win column, they left full in their hearts after the volunteering they performed and the positive impact they left in the Southern California community. “Win or lose a game,” said Buscaglia, “this is more important than any game we’ll ever play and one of the highlights of my career so far.”
The 2019 NEC pre-season favorite will return to action at their home North Athletic Complex on Saturday at noon against Pitt-Johnstown.
ONE ON ONE: SUSAN ROBINSON FRUCHTL
Back on November 13th, the Saint Francis athletic department announced that head coach Joe Haigh would be taking a leave of absence from the program. With a road game at Liberty just several days away, the decision was made for former SFU head coach, and current SFU athletic director, Susan Robinson Fruchtl to step in.
Robinson Fruchtl was previously the Red Flash head coach from 2007-12, leading the team to back to back titles in 2010 and 2011. She then left to take over as the head coach at Providence College before returning to Loretto in 2016 as the new director of athletics.
Photo by J.D. Cavrich
11/13/07 SFU coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl watches final seconds of game.
We recently spoke with Coach Robinson Fruchtl about her unexpected return to the bench and the progress of the reigning champs so far through non-conference play.
CD: When you learned that the leave of absence was happening, as AD, what was the process like to determine that you would be stepping in?
SRF: Well the timeframe happened quickly, the Tuesday before the Liberty game. We obviously had staff and administrative meetings and we decided that with the whole staff being new, that it was the best thing to do right now, not knowing how long it would last. It’s basically week to week right now, and we’ll continue to try and get better.
CD: During that first meeting with the players, what was their reaction to this change?
SRF: They were definitely surprised. But we got them moving right away, in terms of practice. As players, they want to play, so we thought the best thing to do was to do practice, so I did practice that day.
CD: For you, was it like riding a bicycle?
SRF: Your body has to get used to coaching, it’s a different energy that you have to get used to. Now, I think we have a much better gameplan in terms of where we think we need to be by the time NEC starts. We have a month until NEC play, and that’s when we need to be ready.
CD: How has this changed your daily schedule as athletic director?
SRF: It’s definitely changed. I get in and try, for the first couple of hours in the morning, to try and get administrative stuff in order, and then meet with the basketball staff, do practice, and some scouting.
CD: What are some things the team needs to improve on this next month to be ready for NEC play?
SRF: I think a couple of things…transition defense, just not giving up easy buckets. Last year with our team speed, if they got beat in transition, they could make up for it a little bit. This year, we have to be a little more fundamental defensively. Rebounding…without an Ace Harrison, she made a huge difference, but now we have a collective group and we need to collectively rebound. We did a much better job of that vs. Florida Gulf Coast, we out-rebounded them, and that was a real positive step.
Coach Robinson Fruchtl and the Red Flash will be out in the Pacific Northwest next weekend to play a pair of games in the Husky Classic, before returning back to the Keystone State for their final two non-conference games before the holidays, Wednesday 12/19 vs. Morehead State and Friday 12/21 at Pittsburgh.
#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES
*A CLOSER LOOK: Today we take a closer look at Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis Brooklyn, two teams who tied for fifth in the pre-season poll, and have been the top two standout teams so far in non-conference play.
The Mount, a young team composed of 10 freshmen and sophomores, is off to their best eight game start since the turn of the century at 5-3. This is a complete turnaround from a team that started 1-7 in their first eight games just one year ago. The five non-conference wins mark the most for the Mountaineers in a season since they also won five in the 2013-14 campaign. Their current four game win streak is their largest non-conference win streak since 1993-94.
The Mount are doing it with their offense, ranking second in the league in scoring (67.9ppg), and field goal percentage (42.6%). The Mount has shot over 40% from three in four out of their last six games, including a season high 14 made threes against Towson, the game that started their current four game run. Four players are averaging in double figures scoring: senior Juliette Lawless (16.4ppg), sophomore Daly Sullivan (12.6ppg), freshman Michaela Harrison (12.1ppg), and sophomore Jatarrikah Settle (10.4ppg). The Mount’s current starting lineup of Lawless, Sullivan, Harrison, Settle, and leading rebounder Rebecca Lee is a perfect 4-0, averaging 74.5 points.
For the Terriers, prior to this season, they had never produced a 100 point game in their program’s history. Then they went out this year and topped the century mark three times in their first five games. First year head coach Linda Cimino made it quite clear right from the start that she was looking to turn up the tempo and produce more shots, and indeed she has. The Terriers not only lead the NEC in scoring (82.8ppg), field goal percentage (45.4%), and three point field goal percentage (44.8%), but they place in the top 40 in the nation in all three categories (19th in scoring, 40th in FG%, and #1 in the entire country in three point FG%, as of 12/11). The Terriers are out to a 6-3 start, their most non-conference wins since they recorded nine as part of their program record 19 win season in 2013-14. Jade Johnson has had an incredible month for the Terriers, leading the team in scoring seven out of their first nine games. In addition to the offense, the Terriers have proven to be an incredibly resilient group, coming back from as many as 16 points down to beat Morehead State, outlasting Loyola in three overtimes, and putting away St. Peter’s on a Dominique Ward game winning jumper to break a 70-70 tie with 44 seconds remaining.
*KOVATCH WATCH: The reigning NEC Player of the Year Jess Kovatch led the Red Flash with 19 points last Saturday against Youngstown State. Kovatch currently stands at 2,301 career points, placing her just 37 points shy of tying, and 38 points shy of passing, NEC Hall of Famer Jess Zinobile for the NEC WBB all-time scoring record. History could very well be made this weekend in Seattle at the Husky Classic when the Red Flash play in a pair of games against Boise State and either Washington or Montana.
*1,000 POINTS: Congratulations to Central Connecticut State senior guard Kiana Patterson who scored her 1,000th career point back on November 13th at Rutgers. Patterson, an All-NEC second team performer a year ago, is currently the league’s second leading scorer, averaging 18 points per game.
Next to step up to the 1,000 point mark figures to be Bryant junior Sydney Holloway, who currently stands at 976 career points, 24 shy of 1,000. She’ll have to wait a bit though as the Bulldogs just began a three week break between games. Their next outing won’t be until Sunday, December 30th against Holy Cross.
*3OT TERRIERS: On December 8th, the Terriers needed three overtimes to defeat Loyola (MD) 75-70. The game featured several ties and lead changes before the Terriers pulled away in the third extra session. Both Jade Johnson and Amy O’Neill played all 55 minutes of the game. It marked just the second 3OT game in the nation so far this season (Canisius and St. Bonaventure was the other from November 13th) and the first multiple OT game for St. Francis Brooklyn since their 2OT semi-final win against CCSU in the 2015 NEC Tournament.
A LOOK AHEAD
12/15-16: Saint Francis at Boise State & Washington/Montana – The Red Flash head to the Pacific Northwest for a pair of games which could feature the league’s all-time scoring record getting surpassed
12/15: Albany at St. Francis Brooklyn – At halftime, St. Francis Brooklyn Athletics Hall of Famer Jeanne Zatorski’s #15 will become the very first jersey number retired in program history. Zatorski was the first woman’s basketball student athlete inducted into the SFBK Athletics Hall of Fame back in 1987. Zatorski is the program’s third all-time leading scorer with 1,704 career points.
12/16: Mount St. Mary’s at Virginia Tech – After a 10 day break, the Mount will return to the court and put their four game win streak on the line against the Hokies, who were selected 11th in the ACC Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
12/16: Sacred Heart at Manhattan – Last year with just over a minute to go, and down a point, Candice Leatherwood made two clutch free throws to give SHU the lead for good in a tight 65-61 win in Fairfield. This weekend they’ll meet for a rematch in the Bronx.
12/20: LIU-Brooklyn at Lehigh – The Blackbirds, the lone NEC WBB program still in search of their first win of the season, will have their next chance to secure a W after an 11 day break in this non-conference showdown in Bethlehem.
*For this week’s column it’s the three stars of the season so far
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Brandy Thomas, LIU…Erin Storck, SHU…Candice Leatherwood, SHU… Kianna Patterson, CCSU…Jessica Kovatch, SFU…Michaela Harrison, MSM…Daly Sullivan, MSM…Nneka Ezeigbo, RMU
#3: Juliette Lawless, SR (MSM): A year after winning the NEC’s Most Improved Player, Lawless continues to improve her game to new levels. The senior from Mahopac, NY has helped lead the Mount by averaging 19.5 points per game during their current four game surge. Lawless leads the Mount, and stands top five in the NEC, in scoring.
#2: Sydney Holloway, JR (BRY): Holloway has played tremendous and is one of two players in the NEC currently averaging a double-double (LIU’s Brandy Thomas is the other). Holloway has recorded double-doubles in seven out of the Bulldogs’ first nine games, including a monster 27 point and 20 rebound performance back on November 8th against Brown. The Bryant junior is currently fourth in the nation in double-doubles on the season, and is top four in the NEC in both points (17.7ppg-#4) and rebounds (12.2rpg-#2).
#1: Jade Johnson, JR (SFBK): The junior guard from Australia has been an early season sharp shooter for the Terriers, leading the NEC in three point FG% (.500) and points per game (18.8ppg). Johnson is just one of 19 players in the nation to make 50% or more of their three point field goal attempts. Johnson’s two signature performances so far this season have included a season high 27 points with 6 for 7 shooting from behind the arc against Morehead State on November 18th, and playing all 55 minutes in a 75-70 3OT win over Loyola, leading the team with 16 points.
STAT OF THE WEEK
So far, in non-conference play, Northeast Conference women’s basketball teams have combined to secure victories over teams from 11 different Division 1 conferences, led by four victories recorded against teams from America East.
*The #NECWBB Fast Break column returns on Wednesday, January 2nd for a full recap of non-conference play and a preview of the NEC New Year. A new column will appear each Wednesday during the conference season here on the NEC Overtime! Blog. Happy Holidays!