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St. Vincent guard close to a sure thing at the line

| Sunday, Dec. 12, 2004

Sarah Rockwell has a simple formula for success at the free-throw line: dribble three times, spin the ball in her hands, look up and shoot.

"I always do the same thing when I go to the line," she said. "I really don't have any secret. It's kind of built into my body. I know how hard to shoot and which direction to shoot.

"I try to keep it as simple as possible, because whenever you let it get to your head is when you make it start missing."

That has never been a problem for Rockwell, a senior guard at St. Vincent. She made all 15 foul shots she attempted through the first four games this season, and in the process smashed a school record.

Going back to last season, Rockwell made 43 straight free throws -- the longest string by any player, male or female, in St. Vincent history.

She went into this season two shy of the old school record of 29, which was set by Jim DiMuzio in the 1970-71 season. That mark fell in the season-opener Nov. 5 against Shawnee State, when Rockwell went 6 for 6.

"I didn't even realize it until later," Rockwell said. "It happened so fast. There were a couple games when I was at the line and just made them. The next thing I knew, I'd broken the record."

The next day, she went 3 for 3 against Brescia. She failed to get to the line in the game against Rio Grande, then made another half-dozen foul shots on Nov. 13 against Cumberland to stretch her record out to 43.

"People didn't want to talk to me about it, for fear that they'd jinx me," Rockwell said. "My teammates were real supportive and excited for me. But in practice and outside of a game, nobody wanted to say anything to me."

The NAIA Division II women's record for consecutive free throws in a season is 51.

A St. Vincent official contacted the NAIA to see if Rockwell's streak would count if it edged past 51, since it spanned two seasons. The NAIA never responded to the query.

By now, everyone in the program was aware of Rockwell's running tally -- no one more so than the shooter herself.

"I think it kind of started to get to my head after a while," Rockwell admitted. "When you think about it enough, you start to think about that one you know you're going to miss."

The streak clanked to an end in the Nov. 16 game against Malone. In the first half, she went to the line for her first foul shot of the game.

Dribble, dribble, dribble. Spin. Shoot.

"I knew as soon as it left my fingers," she said.

The ball smacked off the front of the rim, caromed to the backboard, and then bounced out.

"It was more disappointing than I thought it would be," she said. "People talked about the streak and everything, but it really didn't seem like that big of a deal to me until I missed it."

The other St. Vincent players on the court dropped their heads for a moment. The season had gotten off to a terrible start -- the Malone game would be the fifth of seven straight losses -- and Rockwell's streak had been something to look forward to.

"I'd like to get it back up again," she said. "But it's not something that I keep in the front of my mind."

Going back to her career at Hempfield Area High School, Rockwell always has been a above-average foul shooter. One reason is her gritty style of play in the lane.

"I'm pretty well known as a player who will drive to the hoop," she said. "I was always there (at the line) a lot because of the way I play. So, foul shooting is something that you need to be good at if you're going to be there a lot."

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