Lafayette’s Hopes Rest Up Front
By Brian Ludrof, Lafayette Athletic Communications Assistant
Note: The following story appears in the 2013 Patriot League Basketball Tournament program.
When posed the question, “What has been the most significant aspect of your team’s successes this season,” Lafayette women’s basketball head coach Dianne Nolan did not hesitate when she said, “The bigs.”
“Our bigs help separate us from other teams in the League,” Nolan said. “Each player has a unique set of strengths and they all possess a competitive, hard-nosed work ethic. They are an integral part of our offense and the cornerstone of our defense.”
From year-to-year, there are groups of student-athletes throughout the League that work to improve their game more than others or really put in the time to make themselves and their teammates better. That is what junior and sophomore co-captains Danielle Fiacco and Emily Homan, along with juniors Kristan Liddle and Kelly Loughney, did this offseason.
“We all worked extremely hard this offseason to make this year memorable,” Liddle said. “Our post coach, Kim Foley, has given us the confidence and direction we have needed to be successful.”
Accounting for more than half of Lafayette’s rebounds and point production throughout the 2012-13 season, these four student-athletes have used the offseason and rigorous non-conference schedule to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the Patriot League season. They recognize that their roles are not all like traditional back-to-the-basket post players.
“Each young lady brings a unique skill set to the game,” Foley said. “I am very fortunate to be able to work with such a great group of student-athletes.”
“I think we are a successful interior unit because we have a variety of different strengths,” Loughney added. “Many teams only have bigs that are one-dimensional, but we all bring different things to the game. We have size, speed, strength, the ability to play in the low post and the mid-range game. Because of that, we can make it difficult for the defense.”
Loughney has been one of Lafayette’s most versatile players this season. Her mid-range jump-shooting ability has allowed her to score from different areas of the floor. This extra scoring option for the Leopards was not available last season as Loughney sat out the year after transferring from New York University in 2010.
“I think last year helped me a lot as far as developing chemistry and adjusting to the team,” the junior stated. “Although I was essentially a practice player, I still had the chance to learn my teammate’s tendencies. I also had more individual workouts, which helped me to prepare for this season.”
Liddle has seen her production increase drastically throughout Patriot League play as her quickness on the defensive end has made her an asset for Nolan. While she has become a consistent starter for the Maroon and White, she hasn’t forgotten her role.
“My minutes have increased in order to relieve some of the pressure off our bigs inside and match up with the more mobile posts defensively,” Liddle stated. “This season, our centers [Fiacco and Homan] have taken on the vast majority of the team’s offensive production. My job is to get the ball to them when they are open, knock down any open shots and defend the quicker/smaller posts.”
Speaking of the centers, the 6-foot-7 Fiacco has continued her production on both ends of the court this season, piggybacking off a 2011-12 year in which she became the first player in Patriot League history to record more than 100 blocks in a single-season, setting Lafayette and League records with 112 stuffs.
“Danielle has been a pleasure to work with the past three seasons,” Foley said. “She has improved by leaps and bounds since she came to Lafayette which is a testament to her work ethic. Her defensive presence in the paint and ability to block shots is huge for us and changes the way teams can play against us.”
Among the national leaders this season in blocked shots, Fiacco has not been relied upon as heavily due to the improvement of the players around her, but has taken more of a leadership role as she was named one of three co-captains.
“The role of a captain brings more responsibility on and off the court,” Fiacco said. “It includes ensuring everyone has the correct practice and workout times, organizing team events, etc. On the court, leadership is important, but it all comes down to how we work as a team.”
Homan, another co-captain as a sophomore, is the final piece to the post puzzle. Battle-tested this year with injuries and illness, she has still been able to perform at a high level.
“Spraining my ankle was not the way I wanted to start out the season and it took a few games until I really felt comfortable on the floor again,” Homan added. “You don’t want to use it as an excuse and every time you go out on the floor, you just have to work your hardest and keep getting better.”
All four of these players have been vital in Lafayette improving on both its League and overall records from a year ago. Going 8-22 in 2011-12, the Leopards earned their ninth win with nine games remaining in the season, a 68-52 win over archrival Lehigh on Jan. 26. Lafayette also earned its third League victory of the season, a 49-47 triumph over American on Feb. 2, improving upon its 2-12 mark from a year ago.
If the Leopards are to make the leap this March, then it will be up to the “bigs” to deliver.