There might be no definitive word to describe the complex twists and turns Shawnee State's season has gone through, but the last two weeks can be summed up pretty concisely.
The Bears, got into the AMC Tournament on the final day of the regular season, as the fourth, and last seed in the South Division. After two upsets on the road, the Bears have one last chance to make it to the NAIA Division II National Tournament when they face Geneva today in Beaver Falls, Pa. If the team wins against the top-seeded Golden Tornadoes, it will advance to the National Tournament for the 12th time in 13 years. The way SSU has been playing recently, the former long shot might have one more trick up its sleeve.
“It's incredible what they have done,” said Shawnee State coach Robin Hagen-Smith. “To be (the) fourth (seed) and on the road, especially since we struggled on the road in the regular season (and make the tournament) would be unbelievable. They've really poured it on when it counts.”
SSU won only three games on its opposition's home court (three wins were at neutral sites), but have advanced to the showdown with Geneva by dismantling Ohio Dominican and Notre Dame in the last week. Though the Bears won the AMC tournament three years in a row (2001-03), they did it as the top seed. No fourth-seeded team has won the conference tournament this decade.
Hagen-Smith is pleased that the team has responded in the tournament. Shawnee has utilized its speed and depth, especially at the forward positions to give its opponents fits. Against Notre Dame on Saturday, though the Lady Falcons had size, they could not keep up with SSU as the Bears had a 10-0 advantage in fast break points.
Hagen-Smith also rotated her four post players constantly, keeping them fresh and ready to run. There could be a similar strategy against the Golden Tornadoes, who also rely on size in 6-foot-2 Ruth Dobos and 6-foot Allyson Clarke. Clarke leads Geneva in scoring at 15 points per game and rebounding at 9.3. Dobos is tops in the AMC in blocks, swatting 71 on the season. Second on the list - SSU's Becky Babione with 63.
After Dobos and Clarke, however, Geneva doesn't sport another true post presence, which Hagen-Smith said gives the Bears a distinct advantage.
“I really like our matchups at the 3-4-5 positions,” Hagen-Smith said. “Our 4s and 5s can be a tough matchup because they play out on the perimeter and post players aren't used to playing on the perimeter. We need to take advantage of those mismatches.
“We're hoping to wear them out by running up and down the court,” she added. “We want to establish tempo. They just want to walk it up and control it.
While Shawnee State will rely on its quickness to combat Geneva's attack, the Golden Tornadoes also sport some speed in senior guard Jackie Anthony. The 5-foot-1 Anthony can get to the basket in a heartbeat, but also distribute the ball as well, averaging 4.71 assists a game.
“Anthony likes to drive and penetrate. We need to contain her,” Hagen-Smith said.
Some of those assists have gone to Lauren Uranker, second in the AMC in 3-point shooting.
Having to play two games in the span of four days did not give the team much time to prepare for an opponent they had never seen before. Hagen-Smith credited assistant coach Todd Perdas for breaking down film for the squad while she, and assistant coach Gregg Smith, were teaching class.
“He's done an absolutely tremendous job of breaking down film and getting us prepared,” Hagen-Smith said.
If the Bears are completely prepared, their amazing run won't be coming to a close any time soon. One more game, one more chance.
It's exactly how they wanted it to be.
“We seem to have the desire and determination we need and that confidence,” Hagen-Smith said. “We need to have that swagger from the beginning so we can go in there and stun them.
“We are going to stun them.”
Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on 1260 AM and at www.shawnee.edu.
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.