By Matt Hammond
The Lions dominated their opponents the last two weeks, leaving a lasting impression after their first appearance in the four-team bracket of the Swarthmore Tip-Off Tournament. After cleaning up its competition in blowout fashion, the College now boasts a two-game winning streak at the expense of Swarthmore College and Haverford College.
“We started our journey, and I think we’re on the right track,” senior guard Karen Lassoni said. “I’m really excited for this season. I’m really excited to work with a group of girls that are really hard-working. And I definitely think we have all the components to win another (conference) championship.”
To its credit, after the off-season lowered experience on its roster and disassembled its low-post game, the College has struggled to reestablish last season’s dominance. The Lions may have dropped their season’s first two games, but only by a combined six points.
“Some girls have been on the team for two and three years, and it takes a little while to get used to the new system,” Lassoni said. “Coach (Dawn Henderson) definitely changed our outlook of what we needed to do, because of our personnel.”
With Lassoni in foul trouble for most of the weekend, sophomore guard Katie Occhipinti was thrust into an important role during both games. She didn’t have statistics to show for her effort personally, but by taking the reins of their fast-break offense, Occhipinti orchestrated a 32-4 run in the second half against Swarthmore that buried the Garnet.
Emerging as an off-the-bench compliment to Occhipinti, sophomore guard Hannah Tait scored 16 points on four three-pointers in the Swarthmore game. Sophomore guard Jessica Imhof also provided an offensive spark as her 16 points led all scorers against Haverford.
“From the beginning of the season, we’ve always emphasized that every single member of the team is important,” Lassoni said. “And every single player, at any time, can have the opportunity to step up. This year we really don’t have any star players, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on—working as a group.”
The Lions showed glimpses earlier in the week, in a home game on Nov. 18 against Moravian College. The ball-movement that gashed holes in defenses days later just didn’t produce openings on Wednesday. Still, the promise it showed their coach didn’t go unnoticed.
“We made leaps and bounds from what we were able to do against Stevens tonight,” Henderson said.
It seems the Lions have broken through and are starting to show signs they’re ready to revisit last year’s form.
“We’re getting into our offenses better, we’re settling into our defenses more,” Lassoni said. “I definitely see an improvement from the first game to the last game that we played. It’s easy to look at wins and losses, but at this point in the season, we want to look at how we’re playing.”
But she also noted the job is far from finished.
“In games we have a lot of highs and a lot of lows,” Lassoni said. “We really want to work on keeping a steady pace. We definitely improved, but we still have a long way to go.”
Hoping to keep an even keel and maintain its momentum, the Lions dig into their in-conference schedule Wednesday night in Packer Hall, welcoming NJAC-rival Rowan University. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The College then travels to Salisbury University over the weekend for the four-team Salisbury University Optimist Classic. The first game against Frostburg University starts Friday Dec. 4 at 8 p.m.