By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
ERIE, Pa. —
For the third time in six years, Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons will be making an appearance in the NCAA Division II National Basketball Tournament.
This time, however, Fairmont’s women are hoping for a different outcome in their Atlantic Regional opener. After suffering opening-round losses in 2008 and 2010, Fairmont has a chance to reach the round of 32 for the first time since 2005, but accomplishing that feat may be easier said than done,
Standing in FSU’s way is top-seeded and seventh-ranked Gannon (Pa.) University – the team that bounced the Lady Falcons from the 2010 Atlantic Regional with a convincing 92-65 victory.
Tip off is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at Gannon University’s Hammermill Center. The eighth-seeded Lady Falcons come into the contest 23-9 overall and riding a seven-game winning streak after claiming the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s automatic bid to the Atlantic Regional by winning the annual league tournament championship almost two weeks ago.
Gannon, on the other hand, lost in the title game of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, 74-57, to Bloomsburg (Pa.) University last Saturday. Prior to that the Lady Golden Knights (28-4) had won seven straight and 13 out of 14 games.
“Obviously you’re not ranked seventh in the country and 28-4 without being a very good basketball team,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “They also get to play at home where they’re very tough to beat, so in that respect they have an edge on us. We’ve watched several films on them and because our tournament ended a week earlier than theirs did we’ve had the opportunity to see them live three times. Hopefully, that will negate some of their advantage.
“At the same time, though, they have very good shooters, a very strong inside game, they’re very deep and they’re very well coached. I do believe there are several scenarios where we can win, and it’s our job as coaches to try to create those scenarios for our team.”
Gannon is 13-0 in home games this season and currently has a 14-game home-court winning streak dating back to last season. The Lady Knights, who are 5-1 all-time against the Lady Falcons, average 70.6 points per outing and only allow 58.5. Gannon also averages over seven made 3-point field goals per game and is outrebounding its opponents by 7.5 per contest.
The Lady Knights, like Fairmont, rely on a balanced offensive attack which has three players averaging in double figures. Gannon is led by Jen Papich, a 6-foot junior forward, who averages 13.0 points and 5.8 rebounds. She’s led Gannon in scoring 11 times this season.
Brittany Batts, a 5-7 sophomore guard, averages 11.7 points per outing and set the school’s single-season record for made 3-pointers with 97 this year. She currently ranks first in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (45.8). She’s led Gannon in scoring 10 times this year.
Nettie Blake, a 6-1 sophomore forward, averages 11.2 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds per contest. The Lady Knights also get 7.1 points per outing from 5-7 sophomore guard Doriyon Glass, 5.1 points and 5.4 assists from 5-6 junior point guard Kelly Sundberg, and 8.8 points off the bench from 5-10 sophomore guard Mollie Sebald.
“They’re a very talented team,” said FSU senior guard Tiffany Nicholson. “They have very good shooters and a good inside game which complements them. We’re going to have to contest their outside shooters and try not to give up anything easy inside. That’s going to be a big challenge for us.
“They’re also a fairly young team, so we want to try to put pressure on them defensively.”
Fairmont, which averages 66.8 points and allows 61.8 per game, is led by senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder, who averages 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists. The Lady Falcons also get 13.6 points and a team-best 9.1 rebounds per game from sophomore center Hailey Garrett. Senior guards Briana Welch and Nicholson add 8.9 and 8.7 points respectively for the team, while sophomore forward Emily Lohr chips in 8.1 points per contest.
“For us it’s really pretty simple,” said McDonald. “We need to go out Friday night and give our best effort. I think if we give our best effort we’ll have an opportunity.”
First-round action in the Atlantic Regional kicks off here today at noon with defending national champion, third-seeded and 14th-ranked Shaw (N.C.) University (25-4) taking on sixth-seeded and 15th-ranked Glenville State (26-3). The 2:30 p.m. contest will feature second-seeded and 19th-ranked Edinboro (Pa.) University (22-6) battling seventh-seeded California (Pa.) University (20-8). The final game this evening will take place at 8:30 p.m. and pit fourth-seeded Indiana (Pa.) University (22-8) against fifth-seeded and 23rd-ranked Bloomsburg (Pa.) University (24-5).