Lyco women creating future core

Replacement is just the nature of the beast in college athletics.

And often times it’s the coaches who can mix their on-court knowledge with their off-court knowledge that has the most success. It basically means a meshing of sorts between the coach’s style of play and the players’ style of play.

Sometimes though, if the classes don’t mesh as planned, it takes a difficult year of losing and development. Sometimes it simply takes a little bit of luck to find a group of talented players who can gel at the right time.

All that said, it appears the Lycoming women’s basketball team and coaches have prepared for the future. For the most part, the Warriors’ season has been highlighted by the play of freshmen and sophomores, who have flashed the kind of athleticism and understanding that should have fans smiling wide with optimism for years to come.

“They have come a long way since October 15th (when practice started),” Lycoming women’s coach Christen Ditzler said of her current crop of freshmen and sophomores. “I didn’t think we’d be relying on them quite as much as we are, but they’ve welcomed the challenge and have stepped up. They’ve really made huge impacts in all areas.”

Lycoming and its young group of contributors will travel to Stevenson today for its first Commonwealth Conference tilt of the season.

Eight of the top 11 scorers on the Warriors are freshmen or sophomores. Point guard Shannon Wheeler leads the young group of players with 98 points, trailing only Julia Antonelli. Wheeler also has 41 assists and 24 rebounds. Sophomore Kat Andriani (44 points, 88 rebounds, 16 blocks) and freshmen Taylor Ford (45 points, 6 steals) and Chelsea Henderson (26 points, 28 rebounds) have also stepped up for the Warriors.

One the most critical parts of any young player’s development, besides the coaching staff, is finding that one teammate who understands the trials faced by an incoming freshman and is willing to offer advice.

For Wheeler, it seems as though luck has not only shined on her, it blinded anyone within 20 feet of her as Scheller, who leads the team with 45 assists, has acted as that mentor.

“She has helped me a lot,” Wheeler said. “She guides me in practice with the plays. Any questions I have she answers them. She’s just been a good help to me. It’s good to have somebody that has been here for four years and can help me.”

Although it means you’re likely out, whether it’s due to graduation or the younger legs of an incoming player, it takes a special kind of person to help their replacement. It shows a level of concern for both your team and it’s continued to success.

“From Rachael Scheller’s stand point, who has been around four years, this is the first year she has really been pushed at practice,” Ditzler said. “Rachael and I agree that this is making her a better player. She’s really had to work hard.”

Wheeler’s impact with the team was almost immediate as she posted 11 points against Moravian in Lycoming’s second game. She followed that up with a 12-point performance against Misericordia.

“Shannon is going to have a great career here. We knew what she was capable of coming out of high school,” Ditzler said. “From the very moment the team played pick-up they knew Wheeler was somebody they wanted on their team.”

The breakout moment for the New Jersey native came in Lycoming’s first win of the season. In 23 minutes of work, Wheeler posted 19 points as Lycoming finished off Elizabethtown, 70-62.

“She’s playing with much more confidence and now she knows she can run the show,” Ditzler said of Wheeler.

Last year’s group of freshmen, headlined by Milton’s Ali Derr and Hazleton’s Janelle Ziminski, excelled for the Warriors who have leaned more on the underclassmen as the year has progressed.

Ziminski, now a regular contributor to the team, appeared in 19 games last season. She averaged 4.8 points per game and 2.3 boards per game through her initial season with the team.

Ziminski has continued those averages, but has become a much more vocal player. She isn’t afraid to call for the ball and has given the Warriors quality minutes in the most critical of times.

“Last year I thought the freshmen did well,” Ditzler said. “This year this group seems ready to go. Sometimes when you have the opportunity you step up. That’s how you make things happen for yourself.”

“It’s my team and knowing they stand by me now matter what,” Ziminski said of her emerging confidence. “Being a year older always helps.”

Shanley Harlacker and Olivia Manges have also been solid contributors as first-year players. Manges, who is the third leading scorer with 66 points, has emerged as one of the best shooters on the team. Her effort and on-court energy has given her an increased amount of minutes as the season has progressed.

And she was quick to take advantage of the extra minutes, scoring a season-high 11 points in Lycoming’s 76-42 loss at Widener.

“The key to our success is just working hard and trying to progress,” Wheeler said. “We just need get wins and continue to progress and go a little further this year.”

Derr, who started the season with an ankle injury, has continued to progress after a solid freshman season with the team. The Milton product posted a season-high 15 points against King’s. Derr, currently the fourth leading scorer on the team, has averaged 5.6 points per game and 3.7 rebounds through 13 games this year.

“It’s nice to have a deeper bench this year,” Ziminski said. “You’ll always get a break if you need one.”