Following a berth in the NAIA National Tournament in the first year under Head Coach Tony Grenek, the Point Park University women’s basketball team looks to build on their success in a new conference.
The Pioneers are now members of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and in the preseason were voted to finish third in the conference.
The role of underdog is one the team embraced all of last season, and one they have enjoyed this season as well.
“I like it better that way,” senior guard Emily Schartner said. “We go into every game knowing that we’re not just going to walk in there and walk all over anybody, so that makes us come in more prepared.”
Last season, the team came in with many goals and Grenek acknowledged how it was a senior oriented squad. This season however he wants his team to improve every day.
The season started with many of the players dealing with a variety of injuries. The team played three games in five days two of which were on the road, and while they won the first two, they lost the last one. A similar fate met the Pioneers when they played three games in six days and they lost their first ever KIAC game to Alice Lloyd 71-64.
At 5-4 last season, the team got a needed boost with their 56-54 victory over Carnegie Mellon University. This season they were 4-2 and needed a big win to jump start their season, it would come when the Pioneers visited another KIAC foe in the Indiana University Southeast Grenadiers.
In the game, the Grenadiers led by as many as 15 points and had a 13 point advantage at the half. Point Park was able to rally back and take the game 74-69 in double overtime. The win was their first ever conference win as members of the KIAC and they have not lost since.
“[It was] probably the most satisfying win in my coaching career,” Grenek said at the time. “We are a battered and bruised team and were on the road against the four time defending conference champs and we were down 13 at the half. The resolve of this team is unbelievable and I am honored to coach them.”
The team then defeated Brescia another conference foe and showed they could win ugly when they defeated Mount Vernon Nazarene 52-50 despite shooting 13-26 from the free throw line. It was the second time the teams had met and the Pioneers swept the series.
The next match-up was another familiar opponent in Penn State Fayette another team they defeated earlier in the season. The game marked the return of senior guard April Austin, who holds the record for most threes made. Grenek has stated on multiple occasions that Austin ‘may be the best woman to put on the Point Park uniform’. Austin was only eligible for one semester of play and thus sat out the first half of the season. Austin scored 11 points and helped the team win 71-52.
Point Park then won two conference games at home 63-56 against Asbury and 53-47 against Midway. Asbury normally averages in the mid-80’s in points per game however since Grenek has coached the team, defense has been one of the team’s strengths. Against Midway, Point Park was held scoreless for nine minutes, but again their defense stood strong.
“If we don’t score, we try not to let them score on defense, so we don’t fall behind or they don’t catch up to us,” sophomore guard Haley Sauer said after the Midway game.
Following the Midway game, Grenek gave his players eight days off, giving them three days of practice before their rematch against Indiana University Southeast, a move the players appreciated.
“It’s a break that we needed, it’s a long season and we all had little injuries but it was a good time to get our legs back and get healthy,” Schartner said
The result was a 63-56 Point Park victory and momentum going into the next day. In the game, sophomore forward Ja’Nia McPhatter had 18 points and 14 rebounds in the game, her seventh double-double in eight games. McPhatter currently leads the team in points per game with 15.8 and in rebounds with 9.8 a game. McPhatter, a transfer from La Roche College has been important to her team’s success and knows her job with this team.
“My role with this team is to rebound, step up and play hard, defend and use my athleticism,” McPhatter said. “It’s just being versatile and knowing what games I maybe have to shoot more and take it in more, and what games I have to go hard in the paint.”
The Pioneers made it eight straight wins when they swept the season series from Brescia. The 86-54 rout came despite both teams battling for the top spot in the KIAC.
The key plays came late in the first half. McPhatter was fouled while making a lay-up with 3:16 left in the first half. She would make the free throw. Junior center Anna Shaw then made a lay-up despite a foul with 2:56 left in the half. While she missed the free throw, the lead was 34-21 and they never looked back.
That was definitely where my intensity coming off of the bench peaked,” Shaw said. “I think everybody was ready to go to work.”
Point Park made 15 three point shots throughout the course of the game and senior guard Brittany Dunmire came off the bench to make five of those, which comprised all 15 of her points.
“As a shooter you know when you’re hot, so I really wasn’t thinking too much, just letting the ball go,” Dunmire said. “The post did a really nice job getting us the ball.”
The win has Point Park with a 12-2 overall record and 6-1 conference record, the best start in team history.
Up next for the team is a road trip to Kentucky where they will face Alice Lloyd and Asbury once more.
“Anytime we go up to Kentucky or they come here, that we’re in for a battle and I think we’re ready for it,” Shaw said.
Photo Credit: Zac Weiss