BY Rob Witham
Sometimes, you can be in a good place, and know that it’s not where you want to be.
Consider the current situation for Randolph-Macon women’s basketball. Saturday, the team, and program, celebrated their 29th “Back To The Hive” alumni day, where past players from over the decades return to share stories, reminisce, even take part in an alumni game.
Yellow Jacket Nation had plenty to celebrate concerning the present, too. Head Coach Carroll LaHaye earned career victory #602 in Saturday’s 73-43 triumph over Roanoke, while sophomore Kelly Williams continued her push towards not just Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC), but National Division III Player of The Year honors, with 26 points and 15 rebounds in 27 minutes.
But Saturday’s win, the sixth straight for the Yellow Jackets to keep them tied for first in the ODAC with Lynchburg at 8-2, 15-3 overall, also proved vital in what Williams couldn’t do, a lesson that could serve this team very well when championships are on the line.
With 1:14 left in the first period, and the Yellow Jackets holding a 17-15 lead, Williams picked up her second personal foul and headed to the bench. Williams has had little foul trouble this season, and it was inevitable that it would happen. The question would be, how long would LaHaye keep Williams on the bench?
Well, thanks to the play of the rest of the Yellow Jackets, they answered LaHaye’s question for her. Williams sat out the last 11:14 of the first half, and watched her teammates extend a two-point margin into a ten-point halftime lead. Charlotte Woods continued her strong interior play, putting up numbers that would lead many other teams. Freshmen Becca Arrington and Elise Knobloch came up with big shots, good defense work, and most importantly, hustle, as the Yellow Jackets stymied a Maroon squad that lives by transition as their way to fuel offense and score points.
“It was really important for me just because you realize where your limits are, and you realize you have to push them,” Knobloch explained. “Like going down and guarding a post, I never thought I’d have to do that with Kelly and Charlotte, so it’s good to know I have the ability to do all these things to do what I didn’t know I could do before.”
Knobloch’s final line won’t jump out at fans, with three points and four rebounds, but add four steals, three assists, and defensive abilities and hustle for all 94 feet of the court, and, in 23 important minutes, the freshman guard continues to find her role on the team, and provide quality play.
“She does a lot of things that just will not show on the stat sheet, other than steals, but, she’s very super competitive, even in practice,” LaHaye noted. “She has a nose for the ball, and knows what she has to do.”
The lead grew without Williams and despite 25 percent shooting from the field for the Yellow Jackets in the second quarter. Roanoke was held to 21 percent from the floor. They stretched the advantage in the second half, in part by the return of Williams to play, and in part by discipline. The Yellow Jackets shot 31 times at the free throw line, to only ten for the Maroons. And while Randolph-Macon’s 54.8 percent work at the charity stripe is still not where they want to be, on this day, killing Roanoke’s transition effectively killed most of their opportunities to launch a comeback.
“We could hear their coach on the bench saying, ‘if you’re not running, you’re not taking advantage of them’, so I was like, we’re getting back,” Knobloch said. “It’s a pride thing.”
The Yellow Jackets have taken great pride in this six-game winning streak. But the calendar is only now turning to February, and there are huge games still to come before the regular season concludes and ODAC Tournament seeding is set.
It begins Saturday hosting Emory and Henry, who began the week a game behind Randolph-Macon and Lynchburg for first in the conference at 7-3, tied with Guilford. A trip to battle the Quakers comes the following Saturday, February 10th, followed by Lynchburg’s trip to Crenshaw Gymnasium. Senior Night will be a war with a team looking for revenge after allowing LaHaye’s 600th career win to be on their home floor two Saturdays ago.
As the alumni departed and the current Yellow Jacket team departed Crenshaw Saturday, this year’s players learned more about themselves, liked what they saw, but aren’t satisfied with where they are. In their eyes, there’s still a long way to go.