BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
ANNVILLE – Players always think they’re ready to play. Coaches, on the other hand, don’t always share those same sentiments.
And then of course there are times when mentors and students are on the exact same page.
On Friday night at the LVC Gymnasium, a suddenly young group of Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball players proved they were ready for their season opener, stomping Neumann 87-47 in the opening game of the Dr. George ‘Rinso’ Marquette tournament. Using a stifling defense, the Flying Dutchmen raced out to a 19-6 lead and were never headed.
Coming off a season in which it reached the round of 32 in the NCAA Division Three tournament, won its third straight Commonwealth Conference crown and went 24-5 overall, Lebanon Valley, the 23rd-ranked squad nationally, counted 11 freshmen and sophomores among its 14-member opening night roster. Neumann, which is located in Aston, PA, was 13-14 a year ago.
Lebanon Valley has now advanced to the championship of the ‘Rinso’ Marquette event in each of the 11 times its been contested for women. Saturday at 3 p.m., the Flying Dutchmen will be seeking their seventh title in the event, opposite Baruch College, which downed Delaware Valley 64-58 in the doubleheader’s nightcap.
Baruch, which calls New York city home, fell to the Flying Dutchmen 59-53 last March at LVC Gymnasium, in the opening round of the NCAA Division Three national tournament.
“Our players are ready to play during the first week of practice,” smiled Lebanon Valley head coach Todd Goclowski. “And I’m not sure after a few games that we’re ready to play. Having a great team is a slow evolution. But we’re all eager to play.
“Yeah, they were ready to play tonight,” added Goclowski. ”
Though it never trailed, Lebanon Valley was nursing an early 6-5 edge, before scoring 13 of the next 14 points. Frosh Lexie Lantz notched nine points in the decisive run, as LVC opened a 13-point margin 8:40 into the contest.
“I think it’s very important,” said Goclowski. “When you have a lot of young players, you hope some good things happen early. That early push was a big key for us.
“I thought we played well,” Goclowski continued. “With the first game, you’re never quite sure how things are going to go. We may have had some early season jitters. But there were times when we executed at a high level.”
The Flying Dutchmen registered ten unanswered points late in the first half to grab a 38-19 margin just before the break. Senior Caitlin Bach tallied a couple of inside buckets, while teammates Bridget Rothert and Taylor Umbrell each nailed treys.
“This is the youngest team I’ve ever coached,” said Goclowski. “The only one younger was a 15-and-under AAU team. They’re an inexperienced team, but they have good attitudes. It is a youth movement. But our young people need to get old quick.
“They’re (Bach, senior Lauren Ruhl and junior Kiely Chaklos) experiencing their right of passage,” continued Goclowski. “Now they’re the veterans. Now they’re the leaders. They’re happy to help them (their teammates) grow and improve.”
On eight-of-nine shooting from the field, Lantz led Lebanon Valley with 20 points. Bach and Rothert each contributed 14 points to the Flying Dutchmen cause, while Chaklos and Ruhl both popped for ten.
The Flying Dutchmen held the Knights to 28 percent shooting from the field. On the strength of 22 offensive rebounds, Lebanon Valley pulled down a total of 37 caroms to Neumann’s 23.
“Our defense is a work in progress,” said Goclowski. “That’s an area where we need to improve. But overall I thought we communicated well and rotated well.
“My goals for Kiely are the same as Kiely’s goals,” Goclowski added. “She wants to improve. She wants to put the team in a position to compete for a championship.”
With LVC up 40-28 four minutes into the second half, the outcome was still in doubt. But Lebanon Valley outscored Neumann 23-7 over the next ten minutes to take a 63-35 bulge, on a lay-in from Peyton Carper, with 6:41 to go.
Another Rothert three, three minutes later, made it a 78-40 score.
“I think we have the kind of team where we have flexibility,” said Goclowski. “Our roles were change. Our goals should be to be good teammates.”