WAYNESBURG – This was supposed to be a good season for the Waynesburg University women’s basketball team. With four starters returning from a team that won at least 20 games and was on the cusp of making the NCAA Division III tournament in each of the last two years, there was optimism around the Yellow Jackets, and it was warranted.
“I was chomping at the bit for the season to start,” head coach Sam Jones admitted.
Seven games into the season, however, that optimism has turned into concern and frustration.
Waynesburg is off to a 2-5 start that includes a mind-boggling 56-43 home-court loss to Grove City in a Presidents’ Athletic Conference game Wednesday night, leaving Jones’ frustration level at an all-time high.
This wasn’t the way the season was supposed to unfold, even with Waynesburg playing a difficult early season schedule that included games against two teams ranked in the top 13 nationally in NCAA Division III.
“I knew we lined up a tough early schedule, and that it could be rough on us, but I didn’t expect us to take this many lumps,” Jones said. “I’m beyond frustrated. I can’t put a finger on it, but we’ve got to get this thing figured out in a big hurry.”
After losing to Grove City (1-2, 3-2), Jones figured his team needed a little more practice. To be percise, more conditioning. While the Waynesburg and Grove City men’s teams played the first half of their game in Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse last night, Jones had his players put on their practice gear and head to College Gym for a workout. And “they won’t be using any basketballs,” Jones added.
Jones was upset with his team’s hustle and effort against Grove City. The Yellow Jackets’ best performances have come against second-ranked Mount Union, 13th-ranked Thomas More and unranked John Carroll, which went into Wednesday night undefeated. All of those games were close losses for Waynesburg, but the games were highly competitive. Jones and some of his players suggested the team is playing to the level of the opponent.
Against Grove City, Waynesburg led by seven points early in the second half before its offense went cold. A basket by Elaine Hasek off a lob pass gave Waynesburg a 36-34 lead with 13:54 remaining, but the Yellow Jackets then missed 22 of their last 25 shots and finished the game shooting only 23 percent from the field.
“We haven’t found our rhythm yet,” said senior guard Jessi Drayer, who led Waynesburg with 14 points. “We played good games against Mount Union and Thomas More, but tonight we didn’t have the same intensity. We have to realize any team can beat you. Grove City wanted it more. They were hustling. They had all the energy.”
Several things have become obvious in Waynesburg’s sluggish start. The Yellow Jackets miss point guard Hannah Hunter – the only senior starter last year – more than anyone expected, and keeping Paige Pearce on the court is a must.
Jones said Waynesburg misses Hunter’s leadership and enthusiasm. “The energy she brought was infectious,” the coach said. “We’re still adjusting to life without Hannah.”
Pearce, the Jackets’ most-experienced post player, has battled foul problems in several games. She played only 17 minutes against Grove City before fouling out. With her on the court, Waynesburg controlled play. Without her, Grove City was able to get the ball to the low post almost at will.
Grove City shot only 23 percent from the field in the first half, but the Wolverines made five of six three-pointers in the second half, fueling their late charge. Senior guard Leah Gibson scored a game-high 23 points, and Kelsey Shirey had 15. Gibson and Shirey each made three three-pointers.
Brittany Spencer scored 11 points for Waynesburg but was only 2-for-12 from the field.
“The difficult part is I can see what we can be,” Jones said. “We showed it against Mount Union and Thomas More. My job as coach is to get us to play that way every night. … We have three days before our next game, and we can’t take them lightly.”