BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – It was an early-season showdown between rivals. A meeting of nationally-ranked powers. And a statement contest.
But it may be weeks before it fully sinks in and the Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball team comperehends the significance of its win over Messiah.
On Wednesday night at LVC Gymnasium, Lebanon Valley grinded out a 54-47 victory over the Falcons, in the Commonwealth Conference opener for both clubs. Lebanon Valley demonstrated its best basketball early in the second half to gain the lead, then simply refused to let it go.
With the triumph, Lebanon Valley, the eighth-ranked Division Three team in the NCAA, improved to 5-0, and more importantly assumed a one-game edge over Messiah in what is expected to be a season-long race for the conference crown. Messiah, now 3-2, entered the fray ranked in the 20s nationally.
Before the season ever got underway, the Commonwealth coaches selected Messiah as the team to beat in the conference. Lebanon Valley, the reigning Commonwealth champions, doesn’t seem particulary offended about being tabbed as the Falcons’ bridesmaid.
“Every conference win, it doesn’t matter who it’s against, is a good win,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Todd Goclowski. “The conference is so good. It’s always important to get a win against a team you know is playoff-bound, and is outstanding. It’s clear why Messiah is the favorite in the conference.
“We have a great respect for Messiah,” Goclowski added. “We don’t even think about those things (rankings). It’s Messiah. We know they’re Messiah. We’re growing like they’re growing. We were able to overcome our hurdles better than they were.”
Staring down a 29-26 deficit two minutes into the second half, Lebanon Valley outscored Messiah 17-4 over the next seven minutes to establish a 43-33 bulge – the biggest of the evening. The decisive run was spearheaded by junior guard Tierney Hiltz’s seven points and freshman Kiely Chaklos’ six.
Only once was Messiah able to make it a one-possession game after that – at 44-41 with 5:57 to go.
On nine-of-16 shooting, Hiltz led all scorers with 24 points. Chaklos went five-for-10 from the field and finished with 13 points.
“For both squads, the rotations were a little shorter,” said Goclowski. “We were able to squeeze a little more transition than they were. Tierney (Hiltz) played a great game. She’s hard to defend and she’s hard to game-plan against. She’s a very savvy basketball player. That’s (getting to the basket) her read.
“Kiely had an awesome second half,” Goclowski continued. “I think she grew up a little tonight. I think early on she had the rivalry jitters. But she’s a very heady player. She wants to do the right thing.”
Down 17-12 midway through the first half, LVC took a timeout and proceeded to go on a 10-2 Hiltz-fueled burst that gave it a 22-19 advantage, 5:05 before halftime. Hiltz collected all ten points during the spurt, as Messiah simply failed to take away her dribble.
“We’re still searching for our identity on offense,” said Goclowski. “Who we are as a team is a very strong basektball family. But we discovered we can scrap it out. We’re a better than 40 minutes after tip-off.
“We’re a team that’s learning how to win,” added Goclowski. “We’re learning how to play together. Are we a great team? No. But we’re a good one and we’re determined to be better.”
Lebanon Valley enjoyed a 26-25 margin in the locker room, after holding Messiah to 30 percent shooting during the first 20 minutes of action. Going eight-for-eight, Lebanon Valley outscored the Falcons by six points at the charity stripe to overcome 13 first-half turnovers.
“”I don’t know how many times you beat a team that takes 20 more shots, and you have 21 turnovers,” said Goclowski. “We were fortunate to win.
“I thought the kids did great defensively,” Goclowski continued. “Messiah has a new offense. I’m very impressed with what Messiah is doing on offense. They’re very hard to guard. But we communicated well and made their shots tough.”
The Flying Dutchmen notched the first four points of the contest – on a jumper from Liz Borgia and a lay-up by Kiely Chaklos – but the Falcons rattled off the next ten to assume a 10-4 lead.
“We really enjoy what comes with being nationally ranked,” said Goclowski. “We have fun with it. It’s great. We enjoy it. But our reality is in the gym everyday from four to six (p.m.).
“It doesn’t mean we get any wins,” Goclowski added. “We have to earn them.”