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Shepherd women ring up new year, victories

January 16, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - New Year's Eve festivities have long been over, but the party just seems to be beginning for the Shepherd College women's basketball team.

Old acquaintances of a 4-5 start have been forgotten and the Rams have started a victory party like its 1999, going 5-0 since the little kid in the Huggies waddled on the scene on Jan. 1.

"I like this New Year's stuff," Shepherd coach Betsy Blose said Thursday after the Rams' 76-45 demolition of West Virginia University-Tech. "Every new year we come back, we start winning. Winning gets contagious."

The ball that dropped in Times Square has been swishing through the hoop for the Rams. They have turned the corner in impressive fashion.

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Shepherd has won seven of its last eight games, turning a 2-4 start into a 9-5 record. In that stretch, the Rams have won five straight West Virginia Conference games and sit at 6-1 in the league with a mid-season showdown at West Virginia Wesleyan scheduled for this afternoon.

But maybe more impressive are four facts:

1. The Rams have outscored their opponents by an average of 16 points in the new year (65.6-49.6).

2. Their defense has held foes to under 50 points per game.

3. Shepherd is now 22-12 (.647) in January games in Blose's four years.

4. They have done it while playing equal opportunity basketball.

"I don't care who gets the credit," Blose said. "That will be a big plus down the stretch. We have a lot of different looks because we are able to play to the strengths and weaknesses of each player."

On Thursday, Shepherd's offensive players struggled, so Blose looked to the defense to make a statement. The Rams used a combination of pressure defenses to blow open the game and hold WVU-Tech to just two baskets in the final 22 minutes.

"(Thursday), we got contributions off the bench from everyone," Blose said. "That's a big thing about this team ... we get a lot of positives off the bench. We preach defense. At the half, we were being outrebounded 22-21, and I didn't like it. They weren't happy with the way they were playing. I guess that's an extension of me."

The extension is the Rams' belief in Blose's plan to turn the Shepherd program into one of traditional quality.

For example, the women's media guide is entitled "Putting it all together," with a number of pictures linked like a jigsaw puzzle. Players are learning to be students and athletes through basketball and community service. But according to the guide, "The only 'part' of the puzzle missing is the WVIAC championship."

"I think everyone on this team can produce," said Shepherd guard Kassandra Kilby, who has spent three years in the program. "We are more team-oriented now. Where one player lacks, another picks it up."

Some outside observers knew it was only a matter of time before Shepherd made its arrival statement. Carolyn Mair, the first-year coach at Shippensburg, predicted that the Rams would be making noise in the Division II ranks soon after battling to a 69-54 victory on Dec. 21, 1998, the Rams' last defeat.

"Shepherd is a good team," said Mair, who watched the Rams while coaching at Alderson-Broaddus before moving to Shippensburg. "The edge is experience. When Shepherd gets that experience, they will win these games. They'll be there. They have as much skill as we have, we just have the experience."

The experience of playing the likes of Shippensburg and Millersville is starting to pay off. Just how far Shepherd can go seems to be boundless, with a WVC championship as the start of the goal.

"It's a dream to be in this position," Blose said. "It's a journey every day. That's a good thing. Now that we're here, I want more."

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