Adversity hardly affecting River Hawks

More news about: Susquehanna
Steven Weidlich is averaging 20.6 points per game, including his 49-point explosion against Misericordia in the season opener.
Susquehanna athletics file photo 

Very little went wrong for Susquehanna last season.

The Crusaders, as they were known prior to this season, stayed healthy all year and cruised to one of the best records in school history, going 24-5 and camping out in the national rankings. It wasn’t enough, however, to get Susquehanna a Landmark Conference championship or a trip to the Sweet 16.

Perhaps a dose of adversity will do the trick – some of it expected, some quite unexpected.

The River Hawks (their new name) knew they would have to find a way to win without leading scorer Josh Miller and three-point bomber Brandon Hedley who gradauted. They also knew their schedule, by design, would be tougher, as coach Frank Marcinek scheduled five non-conference games against 2016 NCAA Tournament teams, to go along with the ones against Catholic and Scranton, conference foes who also made it to the dance.

They did not know, however, that their health would take a turn for the worse. The River Hawks were planning to lean heavily on Danny Weiss, who started all 29 games last year as a junior in the low post. Instead, knee problems have limited him to less than half of his minutes from last season, all off the bench.

If any of this was supposed to do in Susquehanna, you’d never know it. The River Hawks have already beaten four of those fellow NCAA dancers: Lycoming, Trinity (Conn.), Gwynedd Mercy and LaGrange, with Lancaster Bible up on Thursday.

The River Hawks' only loss, a season-opening, double-overtime affair against Misericordia, might even serve as the best reason they have had for optimism. That night Ryan Traub scored 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 32 minutes, showing that SU still had one low-post presence.

That same night, senior captain Steven Weidlich scored 49 points, playing 46 of 50 minutes, nearly willing the Hawks to the win.

“That was a big boost, confidence-wise, for our whole team,” Weidlich said. “Ryan and I said we had to take matters into our own hands, and we tried to take charge a little that game. Our confidence and (Traub’s) confidence have really carried through from that game.”

“He does everything,” Marcinek said of Weidlich, who’s average remains better than 20 points per game. “That’s why we’re good. He makes us good. We practice today at one o’clock, and by the time we start, he will have been in the gym since 11:30. Then we’ll practice, and then he’ll want more. He never gets enough.”

That work ethic shows through in more that just basketball. Weidlich already has a job lined up with a prominent financial firm for after graduation.

“I don’t know how he gets everything done in a day that he gets done,” Marcinek said of Weidlich. “All the great Division III programs have kids like him. He’s the typical Division III kid that’s the shining light of what Division III athletics is all about. As you can tell, I love the kid.”

That comment recalls some other unexpected adversity. Marcinek, now in his 27th year coaching at Susquehanna, was diagnosed with throat cancer last summer. Weidlich had already organized a team philanthropy activity the previous fall, a food drive for the needy. He had not intended for that event to be a one-off, but had not yet organized a team activity for 2016.

He wanted to do something to benefit throat cancer research, but figured Marcinek, already fielding plenty of questions about his condition as he underwent treatment, did not want anymore spotlight on him. Weidlich instead bought 200 bracelets bearing the words, “No one fights alone,” for the team to sell in the fall. The sale raised $256, including donations.

“The whole mentality was that it would be indirectly for (Marcinek), but that it would also be a team bonding experience,” Weidlich said. “It also was a way to say, ‘We know what Coach is going through, so we’re all there for you.’”

Marcinek, after seven weeks of being unable to speak, has been told he is now cancer-free.

Susquehanna is about to find out whether the adversity it has already overcome will prepare it for the rigors of the top-heavy conference schedule. Starting Saturday, SU will play Moravian twice, along with Catholic, Scranton and Juniata over a three-week period.

The River Hawks have no apparent weaknesses, with one possible exception being rebounding, where they are essentially dead-even with their opponents. They are hoping Weiss can continue to work his way back into the front-court tandem he was expected to form with Traub. That pair, with Weidlich a gaudy rebounder for a smaller player, could help make Susquehanna a candidate for a deep run in March.

Regional highlights

The F&M women were struggling from the line Friday, but they got the free throw they needed. Lindsey Powers made one with two seconds remaining to give the Diplomats a 56-55 win over No. 20 New York University, which arrived at F&M undefeated at 8-0. Haley Pilone’s baseline runner tied the game at 55-55, with 10 seconds left. The win was F&M’s first over a ranked team in nearly five years.

The Salisbury men shot 59.3 percent from the field Monday in a 99-84 win over Washington College. Justin Witmer scored 26 for the Sea Gulls, shooting 8-of-11, and dished out seven assists. The Gulls outrebounded the Shoremen 39-22. Salisbury rebounded from losses to Ramapo and Hardin-Simmons in the Classic in Las Vegas.

Lycoming’s Alex Newbold averaged a double-double and shot 60 percent to earn MVP honors in the Louis Fleming Basinger Memorial Tournament. The Warriors beat Fredonia and Delaware Valley to take the title.

Hillary Yoh of Lebanon Valley set a new career high with 22 points in a win over Marywood, then broke it with 23 against Moravian.

Marcus Carter of Christopher Newport led the Captains to a 3-0 week. He was the MVP of the Captains Shootout, and he shot 60.7 percent from the floor, averaging 15.7 points and seven rebounds in the three games.

Coming up

The top women’s teams in the CAC will start playing one another this week. Salisbury will visit Mary Washington Thursday at 6 p.m., and CNU will travel to Marymount Saturday at 1 p.m.

In the Commonwealth, the Albright men will put their 3-0 league record on the line. They host Hood Wednesday at 8 p.m., the visit LVC Saturday at 1. Leb Val visits Lycoming Wednesday at 8.

In the Centennial, Swarthmore visits Gettysburg Saturday at 3 p.m. Gettysburg also hosts Scranton Wednesday at 7. The top women’s game in the CC features Haverford at Dickinson Saturday at 2.

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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