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Lofty goals for Gannon women's basketball team

| Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, 10:12 p.m.
Gannon University Athletics
Gannon senior Jen Papich, a Fox Chapel graduate, averaged 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds last season. The Golden Knights are ranked second in the nation in Division II.

Not many players can say they were perfect against UConn, the gold standard for women's college basketball. Gannon senior Jen Papich is one of the few, but she wasn't overly impressed.

The Golden Knights played an exhibition game Nov. 1 in Storrs, Conn., and Papich made all three of her field-goal attempts, including two 3-pointers and both of her free throws for 10 points.

But that's not what the 6-foot-1 Fox Chapel graduate remembers most about her performance.

“I found myself on the bench a lot in that game because I was in foul trouble,” said Papich, the reigning PSAC West Player of the Year who averaged 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. “So, I think in retrospect, that's probably the thing I remember most in that game is I had a lot of fouls that probably could have been avoided.”

That bit of self-analysis is typical of Papich's personality. While many players consume themselves with stuffing the stat sheet, she chooses to focus on the intangibles — an attitude she said reflects that of her team.

With 12 players returning from last year's group that went to the Elite Eight, Gannon was slotted at No. 2 in the Division II preseason poll. A 6-0 start has the Knights holding down that spot in the latest poll.

Papich said the key to Gannon's success is the players' commitment to unselfishness and to doing the dirty work that helps win games. First-year coach Jim Brunelli immediately was impressed with his team and its leader.

“She's one of those players who is a coach's dream,” Brunelli said. “She takes charges. She gets on the ground for loose balls. She's in the stands. She usually has to guard the better offensive players in the post.”

Papich's contributions went beyond the court this past offseason. During the spring, when Gannon was searching for a coach to replace Cleve Wright, who was hired as the women's coach at Miami (Ohio), Papich and fellow senior Kelley Sundberg took it upon themselves to create a workout book for the rest of the team.

“As a senior, it's more about focusing on everybody else,” said Papich, a biomedical engineering major with a 3.9 GPA. “You really have to make sure everybody else has their head in the right place. Coming off a big season, it's easy to get distracted in the offseason.”

Papich wouldn't allow her teammates to be distracted by the coaching change, nor will she allow them to focus on their ranking. To her, polls are nothing more than opinions based on past accomplishments. The real proof comes on the court, and the Golden Knights have plenty of unfinished business there.

They fell to Bloomsburg in the 2013 PSAC title game before losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion Ashland.

Papich said while the NCAA title is the ultimate goal, the Golden Knights are committed to keeping their attention on each game, practice and wind sprint — the small details that add up to big wins.

“I feel like there's a lot of misdirected, outside pressure on people who score a lot, and I don't think that's necessarily what makes a good team,” Papich said. “I think that's what honestly makes us a good team is we're willing to do the things that help our teammates to score.

“Those hustle plays are a lot more exciting than somebody casually hitting a three or a layup. If somebody dives on the floor or takes a charge, that's going to be the plays that really get a team fired up.”

Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ccurti@tribweb.com.

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