Feb. 20, 2013
Horbatuck Up Front in Bucknell’s Championship Chances
By James Greene, Patriot League Associate Director for Communications
Note: The following story appears in the 2013 Patriot League Basketball Tournament program.
People learn the most about themselves during the toughest times. Sometimes the same can be said about a basketball program and its players when there’s a coaching change.
Enter Bucknell senior co-captain Lindsay Horbatuck.
She was called upon to shepherd the Bison through such a transition last spring when Aaron Roussell was hired as the new voice on the sidelines.
“Definitely as a captain, one thing I had to do was keep the team together and create chemistry,” Horbatuck said. “No matter who the new coach was going to be, we were going to be the core of the team.”
The core she references is the group of five seniors and one junior that has helped orchestrate this season’s turnaround in Lewisburg, Pa. Bucknell finished the 2011-12 campaign 5-25 overall and 3-11 in the Patriot League. The season ended in a tournament quarterfinal loss at Lehigh, but despite the 11 League losses the Bison were competitive.
They lost their first three League contests by seven points or less, dropped a 50-49 heartbreaker at home to eventual League champion Navy and gave unbeaten American all it could handle before the Eagles hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to escape Lewisburg with a win.
After such a difficult year, Horbatuck, a 6-foot-1 forward, took it upon herself to dictate the team’s mood in the offseason.
“It was absolutely vital to stay positive,” she said. “As a captain, leader and upperclassman, I needed to make sure there was still a positive attitude around the team. At the end of last season we got a few wins during League play. That allowed us to realize we had the potential to do better.”
When the search ended and Roussell was introduced to the team as the new coach, Horbatuck believed good things would come.
“I saw that he came from a very successful program. I was excited to see what we would do with our offense and defense and how we would change it,” she said.
Roussell brought with him a most impressive resumé. He coached eight years at the University of Chicago, amassing a 161-50 record, including a 52-5 mark the last two seasons with a 43-game regular-season win streak. His teams made four NCAA Division III Tournament appearances, reaching the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight once.
Horbatuck, now in her second season as a co-captain, realized changes would be coming. And whatever those changes would be, it was her responsibility to buy in and get her teammates to do the same.
“Being a senior, I had to be very open to change at that point,” she said.
“The first thing that stood out to me was her sincere desire to make this a winning team and program,” Roussell said. “She was very determined since day one to do everything in her power to make this a successful season.”
The positive results were almost immediate.
“When he started working with us in the offseason last spring, we paid attention to specific things that I could tell would definitely help us and have helped us to this day,” Horbatuck said. “It was definitely a big step when we changed our whole offense and defense. Starting it that early in the spring has helped us now.”
The dividends were apparent early this season. After two losses to open the campaign, the Bison rattled off five straight victories. The club split its next eight and entered League play with a 9-6 mark. Bucknell fell behind by double figures early in the second half of the League opener at Army, but used a 17-4 run to cut the deficit to five with just over a minute to play.
The Bison couldn’t get over the hump to pull off the comeback victory on the road, but they demonstrated a never-say-die attitude that is the direct result of Horbatuck’s positivity during the offseason.
Bucknell came back with four straight League victories, including a home win over Colgate on a buzzer-beater and a one-point triumph at Lafayette. The close League losses of last year had begun to flip.
"I think the big thing is we are solidifying what our identity is,” Horbatuck said. “When we’re in close games, we always go back to those few things that we know are really important. We focus on those little things, and we’re all invested, and we know we can win the game.
“If we have a constant thought that we’re going to win this game, everybody else buys in.”
Horbatuck’s attitude has rubbed off on her teammates. Her actions also speak volumes.
“She is very charismatic and well-liked by everyone, but is a player who is more comfortable leading by example,” Roussell said. “Lindsay is an incredibly tough kid and hard worker, but she has forced herself to be more vocal and motivational this season which has really helped our team.”
One of Bucknell’s four consecutive wins was an improbable comeback at home against Holy Cross. Down 14 with 6:33 to play, the Bison finished the game on a 20-3 run and took a 62-59 victory. Through five League games, Bucknell had already surpassed last season’s win total.
“I think it was huge,” Horbatuck said of that victory over the Crusaders. “It didn’t even cross our minds that we were going to lose. We just pushed through. We knew we had seven minutes left, and you can do a lot in seven minutes. That’s when we buckled down.”
A year removed from a five-win season, Bucknell believes it’s a contender for the Patriot League championship this March. To get to that point, Horbatuck says, the Bison have to play to their strengths.
“We have to make sure we go out and do what we do best,” she said. “We have to bring it on defense, and we have to rebound. We can’t let any other team out work us.”
As Horbatuck wraps up her senior season at Bucknell, she’s already begun to look to the future. An elementary education major, the Avon, Conn., native was a student teacher at Kelly Elementary in Lewisburg last semester.
“That provided me with an amazing experience to be in the classroom every day,” she said. “I really have a passion for working with kids.
“I find that using the knowledge I’ve learned throughout high school and college, I really want to give back. That’s what I want to do with teaching.”