March 5, 2012
The following story is featured in the 2012 Patriot League Basketball Tournament program.
By Tom Schad, American University ‘13
In the women’s basketball locker room at Bender Arena, a banner reading “Defense: Pride of the Eagles” hangs from the wall. After American’s overtime loss to UMES earlier this season, head coach Matt Corkery took it down and sent a message to his team: the words on the wall were no longer true.
For seniors Lisa Strack and Ebony Edwards, that bare space was a personal challenge. “We’re the top defenders, so if we’re out there pressuring people then it gives the rest of the team the confidence to do the same,” Edwards said.
“And I think a lot of it just has to do with ball pressure,” Strack added. “If we pressure the ball hard, it gives our teammates opportunities to step up their defensive game.”
Three games later, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and nabbed 15 steals in a 63-48 win over Loyola (Md.). They won the banner back and have had one of the stingiest defenses in the Patriot League ever since, holding conference opponents to a League-low 47.4 points per game en route to an undefeated 7-0 league record at the turn. As of Feb. 6, the Eagles allowed 53.0 points per game, the 21st-best mark in the country.
“I think we’re at a place now where we understand who we are as a team and how we’re going to be successful so we understand our identity,” Corkery said. “We understand that we have to be very good defensively and take a lot of pride in that.”
Anchoring the American defense are Strack and Edwards, who have ranked among the League’s best in steals for most of the season. Both came from premier high school Catholic leagues where they learned all of the necessary fundamentals: work ethic, discipline and anticipation. But beyond that, Edwards and Strack have developed a sort of defensive telepathy after playing together for four years. They play a similarly aggressive style of pressing defense and know one another’s playing styles as well as they know their own.
“I know when Lisa gets the ball, she’s going to the basket, so I’m going to get back or go for the rebound,” Edwards said.
“And when I think of Ebony playing basketball, I picture her making the other point guard look like a fool,” Strack replied with a laugh.
Off the court, the two might be attached at the hip. They have lived together for the entirety of their collegiate careers, first in the residence halls and now in a house off-campus. They live together, practice together and can have an entire conversation without saying a word. Assistant coaches, trainers and teammates have come and gone, but they have stuck around and stuck together.
As Strack put it, “We’re pretty compatible.”
The two also have opposite yet complementary leadership styles and personalities. Strack is straightforward, honest and not afraid to tell it like it is, while Edwards is much more soft-spoken. She’s able to motivate her teammates in ways that Strack can’t, and vice versa.
“I think in combination they can pretty much reach everyone on the team because their teammates are going to respond to different approaches,” Corkery said. “But they both still work from the same place of wanting the team to be successful. They both lead by example, and they’re never going to ask somebody to do something that they’re not doing themselves.”
Corkery also values a facet of their game that often goes overlooked: consistency. Day in and day out, Strack and Edwards are leaving everything on the floor and setting a good example for the rest of the team.
“You know what you’re going to get from Ebony and Lisa every single day,” Corkery said. “They consistently play at a high level and I think that speaks to their commitment, their personalities. They’re both even-keel, steady, and right there every day, like you want anybody to be.”
Edwards will go down as one of the few players in Patriot League history to notch more career steals than turnovers. At the halfway mark of League play, Strack was the only Patriot League player to rank in the conference’s top 10 in points, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks. Together, they have guided a class that will arguably go out as the most successful group in program history. Strack and Edwards already have two regular-season Patriot League championships in the bag with hopefully a third – and what would be the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth – on the way.
However, Edwards and Strack realize that their most important games are still ahead of them.
“We can’t be complacent,” Edwards said. “It’s easy to just sit back and be comfortable with [our regular season record], but we need to put the nail in the coffin.”
“And I think have fun,” Strack added. “If we’re having fun, we’re playing well and playing together.”
They’re also playing good defense, just as they have since their banner’s been returned to the locker room wall.