Day-by-day, Eagles eye bigger prize

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Kendall Parker had 70 points in three games to start the season.
Mary Washington athletics photo 

“We’ve got to play ’em one day at a time.”

It was cliché No. 1 for Crash Davis and Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham, and it holds true for most players and coaches. It is the attitude Mary Washington head coach Deena Applebury prescribes for her players.

“I’m pretty much one day at a time,” she said. “The only team I’ve been focusing on is St. Mary’s (UMW’s opponent Wednesday night).” With a win in that game, Applebury will become the all-time leader in wins at the University.

There is also an undercurrent of higher expectations for the Eagles.

UMW has been a regular visitor to the NCAA tournament in Applebury’s 13-year tenure. They are the reigning CAC champions and the pre-season pick to wear the league’s crown again. If they don’t, they still can take comfort knowing their residence in the CAC gives them a good shot at an at-large berth. Christopher Newport and Marymount joined UMW in the bracket as at-larges last March, and only UMW failed to win a game in the tournament.

That leaves the players craving some NCAA tournament success themselves, even three months in advance.

“We don’t all sit down and talk about the tournament every day,” senior forward Brianne Comden said. “But every game we play is getting ready for the tournament in March. We not only want to win the CAC, but we want to go farther in the tournament in March.

“With us losing only one key player to our team, and with the conference being so strong and being so diverse, it helps us prepare for any situation, which is good for the tournament.”

Saturday’s win at York, which was picked third in the conference, was an example of the type of CAC opponent Comden said prepares the Eagles for March success.

“York has post players who know how to post up, but are also good at the three-point line,” said Comden, who scored 19 points in the win. “(By contrast) CNU’s players are more like go-hard, bury-you-in-the-paint post players. They’re not trying to step outside.”

The balance to Comden’s inside game has come from junior Kendall Parker, Comden’s longtime friend and basketball foe from Fredericksburg. Parker scored 70 points in the Eagles’ first three games, shooting 14-for-24 from beyond the arc. She cooled off over her next three games, but her scoring average is still four points higher than it was last season, which she attributes simply to being a year more experienced as a college player.

“The jump from sophomore year to junior year is crazy,” Parker said. “Everything starts to click. You’ve built chemistry with teammates for two or three years, and you’ve built chemistry with your coaches.”

Applebury has noticed it, too.

“Kendall Parker has been playing tremendously,” Applebury said. “She’s come out on fire. She ended last season like this, too. She’s been hungry to put the ball in the basket. Sophomores need to figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing. Juniors come back really ready to perform, and they don’t have to think about it so much.”

Comden and Parker are the team’s leading scorers, as expected. Applebury refers to those two and fifth-year senior Megan Green as “the glue” of the team.

Green boasts a robust 4.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, which seems about right for her. Green will travel to Dallas during Final Four weekend for Division I for “So You Want To Be A Coach,” a program of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association convention. The program is exclusive; attendees must first be nominated by a coach who is a WBCA member. Green is Applebury’s first player to be selected.

“She’s been a key piece,” Applebury said. “She’s such a tremendous leader. She’s almost like a coach on the floor.”

Two of Applebury’s assistants are her former players. Katie Wimmer, a three-time All-CAC player who graduated in 2012, joined the staff this year, as did Sarah Listenbee, the Eagles’ lone player who finished her playing career last spring. She is a student assistant as she finishes her degree this fall.

“It’s tremendous,” Applebury said of having Listenbee on the staff. “She’s on their level. She can help connect the dots. She offers a different perspective, to help connect everything. Katie Wimmer was an All-American for me. It’s nice having those two on the sideline. They bring the confidence piece, understanding the game at a different level. It’s been helping a lot.”

All that leadership gives the Eagles a chance to learn and improve with each game and practice.

That doesn’t mean Applebury doesn’t also let her players dream big.

“This group sees the bigger picture. They want more. They love the expectations. They love the bulls-eye on their back.

“Not that they’re looking ahead.”

Falcons dead-on at the line, from three

It’s the bane of every basketball fan’s existence.

“This team can hit three after three, and they can’t hit a lousy free throw.” They can at Messiah. The Christian college in Grantham, Pa., entered the week leading Division III in shooting percentage both at the line and beyond the arc.

The Falcons’ long-distance shooting likely owes to their wise shot selection. Jen Fairbanks and Hannah Brown lead the team in three-pointers made, but they rank just 9th and 16th in the MAC. The team, however, shoots a gaudy 45.3 percent. There is, of course, no such explanation for their 83.5-percent foul shooting. They probably just do what we all wish everyone would do more: they practice it. Maci Thornton entered the week a perfect 17-for-17 from the line, to go along with her 9-for-16 three-point shooting.

The Falcons are 7-0 and are making winning look easy, with an average margin of victory of 31.3 points, sixth in Division III. One of their 30-point wins was against Dickinson, the Red Devils’ only loss among six victories. The teams will meet again Jan. 3 in Grantham.

Broderick reaches century mark

Christopher Newport women’s coach Bill Broderick won his 100th game as leader of the Captains in their 81-51 win Saturday against Frostburg State. It took him just over four years to do it. Broderick is now 100-23 in Newport News, a winning percentage of 81. Win No. 101 should be a little tougher. CNU faces York on Sunday.

McPherson averaging double-double

Moravian’s Camille McPherson is dominating, averaging 27.1 points and 10 rebounds per game. The Greyhounds needed every one of her 34 points and nine rebounds in last week’s 74-72 win over Elizabethtown. This space touted that matchup as a must-see contest between the Landmark Conference’s leading scorers and rebounders, but the Blue Jays, rather than relying heavily on Emily Martin, got a balanced scoring effort. It wasn’t quite enough against McPherson.

Coming up

Speaking of Dickinson, the Red Devil women will host Gettysburg Wednesday in a battle of teams near the top of the Centennial Conference. Another featured women’s game Wednesday will be the non-conference matchup of Catholic at Salisbury.

The night’s best men’s game will feature undefeated Swarthmore at 5-1 Ursinus. The Garnet will take the floor for the first time in school history as a top-25 team. Ursinus will not be an easy first opponent for the newly ranked, No. 22 Garnet. The Bears, who convincingly defeated F&M last week in Lancaster, feature Eric Williams Jr., who is the CC player of the week for the second time in three weeks. His three-point shooting is deadly, his release hair-trigger quick. He benefits from a Bears team that passes the ball throughout possessions. Norman Dale from “Hoosiers” would be proud.

Phil Soto-Ortiz

Phil Soto-Ortiz has been a play-by-play sportscaster for basketball, football and lacrosse at Franklin & Marshall College since 2010, and has also called games at Division II St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and at high schools around Connecticut. He writes the annual Centennial College football preview for's Kickoff publication and has covered sports for the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News and several dailies and weeklies in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He graduated from Syracuse University, where he called the play-by-play of the women?s basketball team's games, including their last win over the UConn Huskies.
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