Su­per Subs

Alumni find niche as key re­serves

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - SPORTS - By An­drew Robin­son arobin­son@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @ADRobin­son3 on Twit­ter

HATBORO » The fact it was a late-July sum­mer game was not go­ing to slow down Cait­lyn Cunningham.

The Dresher res­i­dent, head­ing into her red­shirt sopho­more year at Jef­fer­son Univer­sity, had just picked off a pass in the corner and man­aged to save it by pass­ing to a team­mate be­fore mo­men­tum car­ried her out of bounds. As the play went the other way, Cunningham found her­self be­hind the makeshift bench in Kelly Bol­ish Gym and not want­ing to get left be­hind, she hopped over a chair and sprinted up court.

Cunningham, a Mount Saint Joseph grad­u­ate, is among a num­ber of lo­cal alumni hon­ing their skills at the Philade­phia/Sub­ur­ban Women’s Sum­mer Bas­ket­ball League af­ter a strong sea­son as su­per-sub for their col­lege teams.

“Sum­mer, you’re sup­posed to get bet­ter, it’s your off­sea­son so you have to im­prove,” Cunningham said. “I re­mem­ber that night, it wasn’t re­ally my scor­ing night but I’m happy to help out in any other way, even if that means mak­ing an ex­tra steal and putting out the ex­tra ef­fort, I’m happy to do it.”

For many play­ers com­ing out of high school as one of the top op­tions for their teams, it’s a big ad­just­ment find­ing a role with their col­lege team. That tran­si­tion is even big­ger if a player moves from be­ing a starter to com­ing off the bench, ad­ding some un­cer­tainty to their role or play­ing time from game to game.

“One of the first things you learn in col­lege is that every­thing is more team-fo­cused and ev­ery sin­gle per­son on the team can play and put in good min­utes,” Cunningham said. “Me com­ing off the bench was work­ing and if that’s what worked best for the team, great. That’s some­thing as a bench player you have to fo­cus on and know even if you’re not start­ing, you’re just as valu­able to the team as any other per­son.”

North Penn grad­u­ate Jess Huber, who is head­ing into her sopho­more year at US­ciences, had to deal with that tran­si­tion this past win­ter. A lefty sharp­shooter, Huber went from 1,000-point scorer at North Penn where she knew she’d get a lot of shots and min­utes to com­ing off the bench for the Devils.

“It hon­estly took me a while, at North Penn I had a lot of free reign where at US­ciences it’s very struc­tured,” Huber said. “It took me a while to learn the plays and un­der­stand the of­fense, but my team­mates and coaches were great with it, su­per-help­ful and I think next sea­son will be a lot bet­ter.”

Huber ap­peared in 22 games for US­ciences last win­ter and av­er­aged 3.6 points per game, but had a 5.0 ppg av­er­age in 12 games in the se­cond half of the sea­son. It was an ad­mit­tedly slow start for Huber, who said she needed some time to get used not only to col­le­giate ath­let­ics, but the aca­demic side of be­ing a stu­dent-ath­lete. Around mid­sea­son, the guard started to feel more con­fi­dent on the floor and as a re­sult, her con­tri­bu­tions in­creased.

“I think it’s all men­tal, all the coaches want is for you to im­pact the game in a pos­i­tive way,” Huber said. “As soon I step on the court, I think what can I do to make things go bet­ter or be pro­duc­tive in any way? That doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean scor­ing, but maybe re­bound­ing or de­fense, just any­thing I can do in a pos­i­tive way.”

Cunningham had a ter­rific year com­ing off the bench for the Rams, play­ing in 32 games post­ing a 7.8 pgg av­er­age in 17.8 min­utes per con­test. The guard red­shirted her first year on cam­pus and felt that sea­son of watch­ing games but still prac­tic-

ing daily re­ally paid off this past win­ter.

Dur­ing her red­shirt sea­son, Cunningham said she viewed prac­tices like they were games and by be­ing part of the scout team helped her get an un­der­stand­ing not only of her team’s sys­tem but also the prepa­ra­tion that goes into ev­ery col­lege game. It showed this past sea­son, where Cunningham was named CACC Rookie of the Week three times and twice scored 24 points in a game.

“I felt so much more pre­pared, I felt like I wasn’t a fresh­man and you’ve built a re­la­tion­ship with you team­mates, so they know you just as well,” Cunningham said. “Dur­ing prac­tices, you’re ex­pected to play as the other team, so you have to keep up that in­ten­sity. You prac­tice just as hard as you’d play in a game and that’s how you’re go­ing to get bet­ter.”

Ris­ing Chest­nut Hill Col­lege sopho­more Cassie Se­bold found a spot as one of the Griffins’ top re­serves in her fresh­man sea­son. Se­bold, an Arch­bishop Wood grad­u­ate, ap­peared in 26 games, mak­ing one start to av­er­age 10.8 points per game in 25.6 min­utes a con­test.

Se­bold was named the CACC’s Rookie of the Year and was a six-time Rookie of the Week re­cip­i­ent. She had a ca­reer-high 25 points but also posted a 22 point game and two 19 point per­for­mances dur­ing the sea­son.

Like Huber, Irisa Ye left North Penn and found a quick niche as a re­serve for US­ciences last win­ter. Also a ris­ing sopho­more, Ye’s hus­tle and de­fense helped her see time in 33 games, where she shot 50 per­cent from the floor to av­er­age 6.5 points per game.

Ye, a guard, was named CACC Rookie of the Week on De­ce­me­ber 4 and was also named to the CACC All-Tour­na­ment team. The for­mer Knights stand­out, one of seven North Penn alumni play­ing in the sum­mer league, had a ca­reerbest 18 point game and led the Devils in scor­ing three straight games in late Novem­ber to early De­cem­ber de­spite com­ing off the bench.

“They teach you lessons, the things you learn play­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment, you can’t learn by watch­ing,” Ye said. “The lit­tle things you pick up. It’s still an ad­just­ment, the first prac­tice is still tough and you have school on top of that.

“The most chal­leng­ing thing was be­ing able to balance

every­thing, in­clud­ing bas­ket­ball, be­cause there’s so much more pres­sure. Ev­ery­one is as good as you or bet­ter, so you have to learn to play with bet­ter play­ers com­ing out of high school but also time man­age, take care of school and have a so­cial life at the same time.”

With a sea­son of col­lege games to their name, Ye, Huber and Cunningham are each us­ing this sum­mer league to work on dif­fer­ent parts of their re­spec­tive game. Ye said the sum­mer games, while help­ful, are also lower pres­sure so play­ers are able to fo­cus on those ar­eas and for her, it’s hon­ing her out­side shot.

Huber noted that de­fend­ing at the col­lege level is a much dif­fer­ent test than high school or AAU, es­pe­cially against older and stronger play­ers, so she’s put her em­pha­sis on the de­fen­sive end of the floor. US­ciences has its whole ros­ter in the league, so Ye and Huber are also able to keep build­ing chem­istry with team­mates.

“The Chest­nut Hill game mid­sea­son is where I started to feel com­fort­able play­ing and wasn’t scared nec­es­sar­ily, the coaches trusted me a lit­tle bit so I think if they trust me, it puts trust in my­self to do a lit­tle bit more,” Huber said. “You can’t think ‘if I make a mis­take, I’m

go­ing to get pulled,’ you can’t have that men­tal­ity be­cause then you will mess up. My room­mates have all been great and talked me through it.”

It’s a sim­i­lar case for Cunningham and her Jef­fer­son team­mates. The red­shirt sopho­more usu­ally first en­tered games in the se­cond quar­ter, which al­lowed her to sense what the pace of the game was and read what type of plays were work­ing for the Rams.

“I was able to ad­just to how the game was al­ready go­ing and I thought it gave me an ad­van­tage,” Cunningham said. “Con­fi­dence was some­thing I had to con­stantly re­mind my­self of. In high school, when you start, you have that nat­u­ral con­fi­dence and you feel it from your team­mates where com­ing off the bench, it’s tougher so I had to al­ways re­mind my­self that I should be on the court as much as any­one else.”

Cunningham saw a lot of time at point guard and said she’s been work­ing on her left hand this sum­mer as a re­sult.

Suc­cess as a bench player isn’t just about scor­ing points. Ye was able to im­pact a hand­ful of games on the glass, av­er­ag­ing 2.7 re­bounds per game and col­lected five or more boards on five dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions.

“I know what I need to work on now, be­cause you’re go­ing to know what your weak­nesses are dur­ing the sea­son,” Ye said. “. I’m go­ing to work on my ar­eas of weak­ness and try to get stronger phys­i­cally. You just have to keep grind­ing and keep work­ing hard be­cause that’s the thing I can con­trol at this point”

Even with that red­shirt year, Cunningham ad­mit­ted she was ner­vous go­ing into a col­lege game for the first time. The guard fin­ished with 13 points, four re­bounds, five as­sists, four steals and just one turnover in a Jef­fer­son come­back win, which showed her she was ca­pa­ble of be­ing an im­pact player.

“Once the sea­son pro­gressed, I started to un­der­stand how many min­utes I was go­ing to play and it helps you man­age how you’re go­ing to play,” Cunningham said. “I’m go­ing to play hard ev­ery sin­gle minute that I pos­si­bly could, but I was able to bet­ter man­age that.”

There’s a nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion in any com­peti­tor to play as much of a role as pos­si­ble, but Ye, Huber and Cunningham all said as long as their teams are win­ning, they’re fine in what­ever role best al­lows that to hap­pen.

“Go­ing into next year, if that’s some­thing that’s go­ing

to get us to the (CACC) cham­pi­onship, that’s the ul­ti­mate goal that gets us into the NCAA tour­na­ment,” Cunningham said. “Ev­ery­one on the team is happy to do that, in­clud­ing my­self.”

GENE WALSH — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

North Penn grad Jess Huber looks to shoot at a women’s NCAA sum­mer bas­ket­ball league.

GENE WALSH — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Cait­lyn Cunningham, a Mount St. Joe’s grad­u­ate, pulls up to shoot at women’s NCAA sum­mer bas­ket­ball league.

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