While most of the Swarthmore community relaxed over the semester break, the Swarthmore basketball teams remained hard at work. The women’s team entered 2013 unbeaten and has hardly missed a beat since they resumed play on New Year’s Day. After losing narrowly to Springfield College, the Garnet proceeded to win seven of their next eight contests, including the last five in a row to improve their record to 14-2 overall and 10-1 in the Centennial Conference, a mark currently good enough to hold first place.
Picked to finish 9th in the Conference in the preseason coaches poll, the Garnet have used their underdog status as motivation for what has been a superb season. In the words of captain Madeline Ross ‘13, “Being the underdog has really fueled the fire this year. We knew how talented we are as a team, and most importantly, we are such a close-knit group of women capable of doing great things.”
The team attributes its surprising success to improved team chemistry and, more tangibly, to its improved defense. Taking advantage of a roster that Coach Renee DeVarney described as being full of “athletes from top to bottom,” Swarthmore has employed a full court press for the entirety of most games. The press has helped the Garnet control the tempo of games, and has keyed a drastic defensive improvement: a year after allowing 63.2 points per game to opponents, Swarthmore has allowed just 53.4 per game thus far this season.
The team believes that its press has contributed to its stellar offensive attack this season as well, as it has worn down opponents, leading to opportunities for easy baskets. Katie Lytle ‘14 explained that “the press makes us play with more energy, and helps fuel our offense.” Both Lytle and Ross have been key to Swarthmore’s attack. Lytle averages a team-leading 15.4 ppg, good for third in the conference, while Ross averages 13.4. Both players have proven their ability to carry the offense on any given night. In December, Lytle had a week in which she averaged 19.3 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, leading Swarthmore to a 3-0 week and earning national accolades by being named to the D3Hoops.com Team of the Week. Overall, she consistently leads Swarthmore in all aspects of play, with her averages of 2.4 steals, 0.9 blocks and 2.4 assists per game ranking either first or second on the team.
Perhaps most impressively, the 5’ 8” guard averages 11.0 rebounds for game, third best in the conference. Lytle and forward Elle Larson ‘15 (7.8 rpg to go along with 12.5 ppg), have helped guard-laden Swarthmore overcome a significant height disadvantage. Despite starting four guards (Lytle and Ross as well as Eliza Polli ‘13 and Kayla Moritzky ‘14), along with Larson, Swarthmore is outrebounding Centennial opponents by 2.5 per game on the season. Polli attributes this advantage to the team’s “heart and energy,” adding, “We are feisty and we don’t give up.”
Critical to the success of Swarthmore’s up-tempo style has been the ability of the team’s bench to complement the starters, ensuring that the entire team has fresh legs for the end of games. Elizabeth Casey ‘14, as well as Jessica Jowdy ‘16, Abbey Deckard ‘16 and Isabella Bellezza ‘16 have all made significant contributions off the bench for Swarthmore. Polli was quick to praise the freshmen, lauding the trio for “the different skills they bring to the team” and especially for their ability to “be ready for high pressure situations at any time.” When Swarthmore lost starting point guard Moritzky for two games due to injury, Casey ensured that the team did not miss a beat, leading Swarthmore to back-to-back conference victories.
Swarthmore’s elite level of play has the team setting its sights high. According to DeVarney, the team’s goal is to win 20 or more games and “win the conference championship.” Ross is confident in her team’s ability to do just that, saying that “everyone on the team wants the same thing, so it makes it that much easier to take care of our bodies, work hard, and improve together. If we keep working hard and taking it one game at a time, we can no doubt accomplish our goals.”
Meanwhile, the Swarthmore men’s basketball team played several exciting contests over break. In particular, the team’s 75-71 overtime win against McDaniel showcased the steady improvements the team has made this season.
The win was especially significant as a confidence booster for a team that struggled to win close games last season. First year head coach Landry Kosmalski attributed the team’s success to “belief,” adding, “Because of all of the hard work that our guys have put in this year, we now believe that we will be successful in those types of situations.”
As forward Will Gates ‘13 pointed out, Swarthmore’s improved defensive effort was a crucial aspect of the team’s victory. In particular, Gates highlighted a charge that Jay Kober ‘14 took late in the game, saying that, “we worked a lot on being in the right position defensively and had Jay not been in the right spot, instead of a charge we would have given up a bucket and possibly a three-point play.”
Both Gates and Kosmalski were quick to point to the team’s consistent effort and improvement in practice as factors that keyed the victory and have left the team confident in their ability to finish the season strong. “We have started taking things day-to-day,” Kosmalski said. “We believe that success will come as a by-product of us giving our full focus and effort every day.” Gates echoed this sentiment, saying, “We really fight and people know that they’re not going to get an easy game against us.”
A highlight of the victory was a career milestone for Gates, as he scored his 1,500th career point. Gates said of his achievement, “I never would have guessed that I would have the type of success that I’ve had over my career scoring the ball. To be one of just a handful of players in conference history to do something is really an honor, especially when that milestone came in a big win.”
Kober and Gates have paced the Garnet this season, averaging 15.4 and 14.3 ppg respectively. Both players had the hot hand during the win against McDaniel. The duo combined for 40 points on 16-29 shooting, helping Swarthmore to shoot a very impressive 50 percent from the field. Point guard Jordan Federer ‘14 and forward Joe Keedy ‘14 also had strong performances for Swarthmore. Federer netted 10 points, to go along with 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, while Keedy scored 14 points and puled down 6 rebounds.
While Swarthmore still has improvements to make—Gates pointed out that “there are still a lot of little things that we haven’t perfected yet”—the team has improved significantly in virtually every aspect of the game this season and looks to carry their momentum into a strong finish to the season.