MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – "Last season was an incredible journey filled with a lot of great memories. But that was last year. I am so excited for what this group of players is going to achieve."
Spoken like a true head coach, that quote from Penn State Harrisburg's Ross Patrick sums up the women's basketball team's current standing. Last season was the best in program history. Yet as memorable and successful as it was, it's over. The upcoming campaign is all that matters now.
After recording a school-record 19 victories in 2011-12, an incredible 14-game win-streak and nearly going undefeated in North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) play, the Lions have a lot to live up to this winter. But as anyone familiar with the history of Penn State Harrisburg young athletics' program will attest to, it's a nice problem to have.
It wasn't that long ago that the women's basketball team struggled to field a full roster. Just a few short years later, the ladies are standing on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament.
Leading the charge in knocking that door down this season will be senior captains Steph Yetter (Thompsontown, Pa. / East Juniata) and Amanda Moyer (Carlisle, Pa. / Cumberland Valley). These young ladies are the key returning pieces from the Lions' NEAC South Division championship-winning squad of a year ago.
The Blue and White also welcome back the 2010-11 team's best shooter in Miranda Zeanchock (Carrolltown, Pa. / Cambria Heights). The junior missed all of last season due to an ankle injury but trained hard this offseason to get back.
"Her determined work ethic has enabled her to get back on the court and we look forward to her leadership and contributions," said Patrick about Zeanchock's effort.
Newcomers to this year's squad include sophomores Hannah Jorich (Middletown, Pa. / Middletown Area) and Megan McCabe (Lebanon, Pa. / Cedar Crest), as well as junior Julie McNaus (Mechanicsburg, Pa. / Freedom Valley Christian). Look for the experienced transfers to log significant playing time.
The freshman class is one of the most athletically-gifted to ever set foot on campus and the likes of Mercedes Copeland (Reading, Pa. / Reading), Lucky Snypse (Philadelphia, Pa. / George Washington Carver of Engineering and Science), Mikhail Whitcomb (Trevorton, Pa. / Line Mountain) and Jasmine Yanich (Harrisburg, Pa. / Susquehanna Township) have impressed in preseason practice. Patrick recognized their talent but said that consistency will be the key in determining how these players split time on the court.
Two more ladies in returner Emilee Truitt (West Chester, Pa. / Bishop Shanahan) and freshman Jasmine Broadnax (Secane, Pa. / Upper Darby) are recovering from offseason injuries. Once healthy, the pair, along with Milton Hershey grads Diandra Soto (Mountville, Pa. / Milton Hershey) and Kiara Carter (Bronx, N.Y. / Milton Hershey), as well as freshman Anne Schu (Orwigsburg, Pa. / Blue Mountain) and athletic sophomore Lindsey Haldeman (Grantville, Pa. / Hershey Christian), will provide the essential depth the Lions so sorely missed this time last year.
After playing games last season with as few as six available players, an abundance of options is quite the luxury. Patrick noted that creating team chemistry has been one of the preseason's focal points as it will help the team gel and play better on both ends of the court.
"Our focus has been on building relationships amongst ourselves," he said. "With so many new faces, the familiarity between players is very new but spending time together off the court has contributed greatly to the early success we are seeing on the court."
"Offensively we are encouraging players to be confident in their decisions and aggressive with their intentions," he continued. "Defensively, there are two focal points; correct decisions and aggression. We've been preaching that if you can only choose one, choose aggression."
That aggression will need to be on display if the Blue and White plans on navigating the tricky 2012-13 schedule. Non-conference contests against established programs such as Susquehanna, Goucher and soon-to-be yearly-opponent Frostburg State from the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) will test the Lions in the early going.
Penn State Harrisburg would love nothing more than to capture a NEAC championship in the team's last year as a member of the conference. To accomplish that won't be easy, however. Keuka, the defending league champion and the squad that bounced the Lions from the postseason tourney last February, returns most of its players from last year. In the South, Lancaster Bible's upstart program will make the Blue and White work hard to defend the division crown.
"The NEAC has had an outstanding relationship with our women's basketball program and I have developed some great relationships with our opposing coaches," said Patrick about Harrisburg's last year in the league. "We've had the opportunity to have our players and programs recognized for their efforts and achievements and the NEAC will always hold a spot in our athletics' history. We thank all the members of the conference for their efforts and wish them success in their future endeavors."
With the season inching ever closer, the time for preparation is nearly over. Now the ladies will face the challenge of following up last year's success. While one would think taking up that task would be unenviable, Patrick believes his players have already shown that they're more than capable of doing so.
"I think every coach has the expectation to compete and win games and coming off a 17-1 conference record a year ago doesn't leave much room for error if you are going to evaluate the team by wins," he said. "What I've seen this preseason is a group of players that gets along great together, is developing trust amongst them and has tremendous individual ability and depth at every position. I don't know how many wins and losses will be in the columns at the end of the year but this is going to be an exciting team to watch and one that you'll want to root for."