Youth not an excuse for UPG women's basketball team
It would be tempting, given that the Pitt-Greensburg women's basketball roster contains nothing but freshmen and sophomores, to label the Bobcats as young and inexperienced.
Coach Erin Eaton doesn't want to hear any of that.
“That's really something that we don't talk about with our kids because we don't ever want it to be a crutch or for them to be able to use it as an excuse,” she said. “I hear it all the time with coaches. Even if we play in a tight game, (they'll say), ‘Well, coach, you're young.' But I think we have talent, and I want to see them get it together now.”
Pitt-Greensburg opened its season on a down note, dropping back-to-back games at the Bluffton Tip-Off Tournament in Bluffton, Ohio, on Nov. 16-17. The Bobcats lost to Hiram, 66-55, and Aurora University, 76-71.
But Eaton believes her team is capable of contending this season because while the Bobcats are young, they also have experience. All five returning sophomores started at least four games last season, including four players who started at least 10.
“Our returners are very experienced because we got thrown into it early last year,” said sophomore guard Courtney DiBridge, the team's leading returning scorer at 9.7 points per game. “I think the group of sophomores that we have are pretty good leaders and have overall done really well helping the freshmen adjust.”
Joining DiBridge as returning players are sophomores Morgan Biddle, Brittany Butterworth, Kayla Dames and Lexi Elliott, as well as redshirt freshman Lindsay McKamish, who missed the 2011-12 season with injury.
In the offseason, the Bobcats added sophomore transfer Megan Hans from Carlow University, as well as freshmen Amanda Estok, Emily Nelson, Chianti Sivek and April Swallow.
While the five returning sophomores started the opener against Hiram, Eaton shook it up the next night by putting McKamish, Nelson and Sivek in the starting lineup. The coach said to expect similar fluctuations this season as players compete for jobs.
“I think as the season progresses, we'll have at different points, two freshmen break into the starting lineup,” Eaton said. “Maybe not even the same two. But I really believe in earning your job every day. I try to not allow kids to get complacent, so our practices are pretty competitive.”
Eaton said the team looked to improve its focus and consistency in the offseason after the Bobcats struggled to a 10-16 finish and a first-round exit from the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference tournament.
“Toward the end of practice, sometimes people start to let up,” said Biddle, who was named third-team all-conference after averaging 8.3 points per game last season. “We can't let that happen; we have to stay focused the whole time, no matter how tired you are, because it'll make us be focused at the end of games when it's tight. And if we have a better focus than the other team, we're going to win.”
Driving the team this year is a feeling that it underachieved last season, when the roster included former conference player of the year Casey Stanton.
“I think they definitely see some missed opportunities, and they came back more focused (and) I think more goal-oriented,” Eaton said. “I think last year for a lot of them, honestly, when you come to college and you get a starting job as a freshman, it's a really exciting thing. And I think sometimes we may have been a little too excited about that as opposed to actually achieving some things as a team.”
The Bobcats, who finished sixth in the conference last year and lost to Penn State-Behrend in the first round of the AMCC tournament, were ranked fifth when the preseason coaches poll came out. The team is aiming at least one spot higher than that in the regular season, as a fourth-place finish guarantees a home postseason game.
Eaton believes the future is bright at Pitt-Greensburg with the prospect of the team sticking together for two seasons after this one, but she's focusing on the present.
“We hear it a lot, how bright the future is,” she said. “We certainly recognize that. But we're trying to do what we can now to try to prepare these kids to have some success this season, and I certainly think it's obtainable.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.