By Nick Cammuso
Times West Virginian
It hasn’t always been pretty or maybe what you’d expect from a team picked to win the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in preseason, but Fairmont State’s women’s basketball team has found a way.
The Lady Falcons, who returned all five starters this season and the league’s reigning Player of the Year in senior guard Kaitlin Snyder, started the season 1-2 after games with Pennsylvania schools IUP, Clarion and California.
Since then, FSU has rebounded in a big way and sits at 4-2 and an unbeaten 3-0 in conference play.
In each WVIAC victory, something different has keyed the Lady Falcons.
Against Shepherd, it was a strong defense that led to transition chances and easy baskets on the other end.
In the team’s first road win of the year last week over Pitt-Johnstown, FSU bounced back after an eight-day layoff to end the game on an 11-5 run.
And in last Saturday’s 81-69 comeback victory at home against Bluefield State, the Lady Falcons overcame poor shooting night and a 10-2 deficit to begin the contest.
Putting the ball in the basket has been a season-long issue for FSU.
Through six games this year, the Lady Falcons are shooting a collective 39.4 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from the 3-point stripe. Even free throws, which have traditionally been a strong suit for the program, haven’t gone down, as FSU is shooting 65.4 percent.
Last Saturday was no different, as the team hit just 24 of 63 field goals (38.1 percent) and went 30-of-44 (68.2 percent) on free throws. They also missed a slew of layups on the afternoon.
At the same time, they were also were missing some key players. Junior forward Kendra Holmes was out with a shoulder injury. and then 2:20 into the game starter Emily Lohr tweaked her right knee.
That forced Hanna Gunnoe into action, and the Lady Falcons barely missed a beat, as the redshirt freshman had a career-high 11 points and eight rebounds.
That resolve and the ability to adjust on the fly has been one of the reasons for FSU’s recent surge, and was certainly a big part of Saturday’s comeback.
“I think a key for us was where maybe I personally or some other players may have lacked at times we had teammates who picked us up and played well,” FSU forward Hailey Garrett said.
“I’m very proud of Hanna (Gunnoe) for the way she played. She came in when Emily went down, and we really didn’t miss a beat. We still were able to run our plays with her. She rebounded, scored, defended and really provided a spark for us.”
“For us to win by 12 after being down 10-2 to start the game is great,” veteran FSU coach Steve McDonald said. “I really liked the way our team responded after our first timeout when it was 10-2.”
Despite hitting just 33.3 percent of her shots so far, Snyder again leads the way in the scoring department at 16.8 points per game, off about five points from last season’s average. She’s added a team-best 26 assists, 3.8 rebounds per game and leads the team in 3-pointers made at 11.
Garrett, a North Marion grad and the current WVIAC women’s Player of the Week, is second on the team in scoring (14.0) and leads in rebounding (7.8).
Fellow former Husky Tiffany Nicholson averages 8.8 points, and has added 19 assists and a team-best 21 steals. Lohr is scoring at a 8.5 points per game clip, and Briana Welch averages 6.7. Holmes has averaged 7.5 points and 6.5 boards off the bench.
Fairmont State returns to action Saturday with a 2 p.m. non-conference home game at the Joe Retton Arena against Virginia-Wise. FSU closes the calendar year with a road game at Charleston Dec. 15 before getting back to work on Jan. 3 when it visits Wheeling Jesuit.
Email Nick Cammuso at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter@NickCammusoTWV.