Carroll Christian's press irons out defensive problems

January 16, 1994|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Contributing Writer

The Carroll Christian School's girls basketball team was having problems.

After playing well and splitting their first two games of the season, the Patriots went on the road to play Heritage Christian Academy and fell behind, 22-8, early in the third quarter. New head coach Dave Wisner decided to shake things up by putting on a full-court press.

And it changed the season.

Carroll Christian forced numerous turnovers with its press and rallied to win that game in overtime. The press then turned into a big weapon that helped the Patriots win seven of their first 10 games -- after going 5-17 last season.

Last season was a tough one for the Patriots. Loaded with young, inexperienced players, the team never found its stride. But the team never quit, and over the summer the players all went to a basketball camp in Tennessee.

This year has been different. Wisner is a big fan of tough defense, and when he saw how well the full-court, man-to-man pressure worked against Heritage, he started using it more and more. It's now the Patriots' signature.

"That's definitely our strength," Wisner said. "We're not tall at all, but we have quickness, not only with the feet but with the hands."

The Patriots do little fancy with their pressure. They simply harass their opponents for 94 feet, baseline to baseline, trapping whenever possible. Wisner said Carroll Christian often forces around 20 turnovers a game, several of which it converts into easy baskets.

The Patriots defense has remained stingy all season. They twice limited opponents to 18 points -- only six baskets in one game and seven in the other. Through the first 10 games, Carroll Christian gave up only 31.5 points per game.

And the ride began with the Heritage game. Trailing by 14, Wisner went to the press. The Patriots, mostly behind the scoring of Mary Lee Lippy, rallied and tied it with two seconds left when she hit a three-pointer. Carroll Christian scored the only four points of the overtime for a 39-35 victory.

"Emotionally, it gave them a boost," Wisner said. "We went on from there."

Lippy is one reason the Patriots have gone on. The 5-foot-10 senior forward has carried the load on offense, averaging 14 points. Despite playing on the front line, Lippy often sparks the offense by driving and knowing how to dish off.

Lippy said the extra year of maturity has been one of the turning points for this team.

"We had a real young team last year," said Lippy. "We could see [improvement ] coming. It was a lot of different personalities mixing real well."

The Patriots still have lots of youth. In addition to Lippy, there are two juniors and two freshmen in the starting lineup. Carroll Christian's best days could be ahead of it.

The other starters are juniors Heather Rhyne (a 5-8 forward) and Cheryl Beard (a 5-5 guard) and freshmen Cathy Saylor (a 5-7 guard) and Nicole Dean (a 5-7 guard). Rhyne is the No. 2 scorer at 5.2 points per game -- which shows Carroll Christian's main problem.

The Patriots often struggle on offense. They shoot under 30 percent from the field. Wisner said the team often rushes and shoots too quickly.

Both he and Lippy said that the offense can improve. Lippy said each player can improve if she works on her shooting.

"I think if each individual on the team takes time enough to practice, even if they spend 5 to 10 minutes a day thinking about it, I think [the shooting percentage] will go up," Lippy said.

The makeup of the team also changed. Last season's group was more physical. This season's group is quicker.

"Quickness is the difference this year," said Carroll Christian boys coach and athletic director Randy Peterson. "The other teams are having a real hard time matching up with them."

Wisner, who played two years of varsity basketball at North Carroll in the mid-1980s, also credits the move to the Potomac Christian Athletic Conference. The Patriots don't need to travel as far, and the competition may be easier.

Wisner said he has seen his team grow. More poise and confidence have helped immensely. The bottom line, however, is the defense.

"A lot of times you don't shoot well," Wisner said. "But you can always play good defense."

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