January 30, 2021 

Patriot League notebook: Lehigh on the move; Army-Navy rivalry; American rises in the South

Lehigh’s Frannie Hottinger is stepping up her game

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Due to coronavirus protocols, there were only six Patriot League teams in action this week as Bucknell found itself in another 11th-hour decision relating to COVID-19. This time, the Bison were sidelined with a positive test in their Tier 1 group, postponing a weekend series at home versus Colgate the morning of the first game. Bucknell then reversed field on the positive test 48 hours later, citing an error with their vendor, Genetworx, and clearing the way for this weekend’s Central division showdown with Lehigh. Will the interruption impact their play?

In the South, American head coach Megan Gebbia’s team took control of the division with a sweep of Loyola (MD) in the Greyhounds’ first return to the court in three weeks. Army and Navy also renewed their storied rivalry in a split. Did it help either in the playoff hunt?

Super sophomore Frannie Hottinger helped Lehigh sweep Holy Cross and now looks ahead to a second chance to break through against the Bison in a home-and-home this weekend. Hottinger spoke with The Next about her start and what’s next for Lehigh. Let’s take a look around the league and what it all means moving forward:

Lehigh’s Frannie Hottinger is fourth in the Patriot League in scoring at 15.3 points per game. Photo credit: Hannahally Photography

Lehigh sophomore Frannie Hottinger is stepping up her game

The pace of play for Lehigh is fast and it’s wearing opponents down. The Mountain Hawks lead the league in scoring with 77.2 points per game and their fast-moving offense has them climbing the playoff seeding ladder. One of the key pieces to the puzzle is sophomore starter Frannie Hottinger.

The Minnesota native played just 7.7 minutes a game last season, scoring 2.2 points and grabbing 1.6 rebounds an outing. Last year’s squad featured five seniors, three of whom started for the pre-season favorites, and playing opportunity was limited. Such is life for most freshmen; you have to seize the moment when it comes. For Hottinger, that time is now.

Her transition from a freshman on the bench to a breakout sophomore starter is remarkable. She’s currently fourth in the league in scoring at 15.3 points per game and in the top ten in rebounding, offensive rebounding, and shooting percentage.

Getting the opportunity to get into the flow of the game and building on a season of learning from the bench have positioned her for success in her new role this season. “You have that year of experience under your belt, and it just feels a lot better and more comfortable on the floor,” said Hottinger in an interview with The Next. “And from that, I’ve been able to gain a lot of confidence in myself as a player.”

Lehigh’s style on offense is focused on an up-tempo transition, running and spacing the floor and using the three-point shot to create a “three-ball or lay-up” opportunity. Through eight games, the Mountain Hawks have edged opponents in fast-break points 80 to 57, and their offense is flourishing. They’re ninth in the nation in assists with 18.6 per game.

The Mountain Hawks shoot a lot of threes and are converting just enough of them to keep defenses honest. They lead the league in attempts and makes from behind the arc, hitting 82 of 239 (34.3%). What has the three-ball threat done for their offense? It has opened the heart of opposing defenses, exposing the interior to the daggers in the paint. Lehigh is shooting 47.2% inside the three-point line (138 of 292) and Hottinger is thriving in the middle of the floor as both a scorer and offensive rebounder.

There is an aggressive mindset on the offensive end with that up-tempo approach, but an unselfishness, too. This is a team that shares the ball and moves it well. It starts with point guard Clair Steele, whose toughness and leadership at the point make the engine go—and it’s a style Hottinger agrees works for this group. “We play a fun pace and a quick pace that’s a lot different than last year,” said the sophomore. “It’s a little bit more fun on the court to run. We like to run and move the ball, and with Clair as the point guard, she really just pushes the pace.” Their five-out motion offense means everybody gets touches and the opportunity to create or score. Steele is second in the league in assists, dishing 4.6 per game.

Hottinger’s game is in a transition of its own as well. She played forward in high school for Cretin-Derham Hall in Minnesota and left as the all-time leading scorer with 1,908 points. The tallest player on her team, she played a lot of different roles but mostly in the paint.

She’s no longer the tallest on her team and now sees the floor mainly as a wing player, committed to developing a perimeter game and learning to handle the responsibilities and reads from the outside. But she also remains a natural scorer in the paint who is comfortable getting her shot in traffic among the posts and hitting the boards.

Hottinger’s ability to finish around the rim has helped the Mountain Hawks to a 6-2 start. Photo credit: Hannahally Photography

You can see the belief and confidence rising in Hottinger’s play as she becomes more comfortable recognizing where and when to attack and score in the offense and when to create for a teammate or post up a smaller defender. She’s a fearless scorer. She’s 44-for-99 for 44.4% from the floor and scored 18 and 27 points in her last two outings versus Holy Cross.

On defense, Hottinger admits to a learning curve on the perimeter. Closing out on a shooter, leveling off an attacking drive, or navigating a ball screen effectively are skills that take time to develop. Even in more familiar space in the paint on defense, you can see her deliberate focus on learning the footwork, balance, and leverage it takes to defend well in the post. It’s a work in progress, but the progress is good. And it’s her commitment to being better that will keep her name near the top of opponents’ scouts moving ahead. Hottinger talks about developing her guard skills:

I’ve definitely had to work on my shot and my footwork as I play more at a guard position—it’s just not something that I emphasized in high school. I’m working on getting into my shot and becoming not only a three-point shooter when I’m wide open, but also just like a threat all around.

Hottinger’s aggressiveness and ability to get her own shot around the paint has added an element to the offense that the team didn’t have a season ago. She’s a natural scorer in the mid-range, a slasher-driver, and an effective rebounder who is still finding her comfort zone on the perimeter in the college game. She’ll need to expand her shooting range out from 15 feet and improve her three-point accuracy (9-for-30 for 30.0%); when she does, she’ll be the focal point of every opponent’s defense.

Hottinger’s skill set thrives among teammates testing and growing their own talents, too. The players stepping into larger roles this season—Steele, forward Mariah Sexe, and guard Mary Clougherty—have all demonstrated the ability to rise up when needed. “We trust each other and have confidence in each other,” says Hottinger. ”We know we can all deserve to be out there and can all contribute in specific ways.”

Over the weekend, Sexe contributed a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds in an 87-68 win over the Crusaders and earned the league’s Player of the Week honors. Joining her with league honors this week is sharp-shooting freshman Mackenzie Kramer, who claimed her second Rookie of the Week recognition. She went 5-for-11 from behind the arc over the weekend. And Clougherty—who has one of the quickest releases in the league—is scoring 13.6 points per game and leads the team with 22 three-pointers.

With a two-game set against two-time defending champion Bucknell on the horizon, it’s more about belief and confidence than skill for this talented, young group, Hottinger included. But if the Mountain Hawks’ marriage of talent and confidence continues to grow, the league may just watch this unit seize its moment as a team a lot sooner than later.

Sophomore forward Karla Vres had a big weekend in American’s sweep of Loyola (MD). Photo credit: American University Athletics

American takes control of the South division with a sweep of Loyola (MD)

The Eagles aren’t quite in sync yet, but they finished the weekend with more answers than questions in a sweep over the Greyhounds. They have a two-game lead and sit in first place. How did they do it? They’re getting more comfortable being uncomfortable.

They have a reluctant point guard playing out of position in Indeya Sanders, a scorer in Jade Edwards who must deal with the pressure of producing every game, and an issue with depth in the middle of a pandemic. The Eagles are a work in progress, but the key word is “progress.” In a weekend of improvement, they found some answers on the offensive end.

Head coach Megan Gebbia’s motion offense isn’t where it needs to be yet, but there continue to be some nice surprises. Sophomore Karla Vres started her first career games this weekend and scored 14 points in a 64-45 road win, and then added 12 points in the 67-58 victory at home. Vres is shooting 18-for-28 for a team-leading 64.3% from the floor.

Freshman Emily Johns is also finding her comfort zone coming off the bench. On the road, the 6’1 forward posted 10 points in 12 minutes, including eight points in the second quarter. In the home win, Johns added seven points in an efficient 10-minute stint.

Edwards continues to impress, taking on the role of primary scorer and key defender along with Sanders. The junior closed the weekend with a 19-point performance, adding 10 rebounds and five assists. She’s tough at getting to the paint and creative in finding ways to score on the attack. Edwards is getting accustomed to the role as lead scoring option and facilitator despite being the focus of every opponent’s scout.

The Eagles also answered some questions about their offense when Edwards isn’t on the floor to put pressure on opposing defenses. They were able to hold their lead in the second quarter at home while Edwards sat on the bench with two fouls. Freshman Kayla Henning’s five-point burst, including an old-fashioned three-point play, kept the Greyhounds at bay and paved the way for an 11-point edge at the half. Questions persist about the offense from deep, however. American was just 4-for-18 from three-point range in their home win.

Can they hit enough threes to make the offense run more effectively?

They’ll need to be more proficient from three-point range to really open up space on the floor for their mid-range scorers and post play. Loyola’s full- and half-court zone pressure packages exposed some weakness in the Eagles’ ability to break pressure, too. They looked a little out of rhythm and uncomfortable at times. But Gebbia kept her team poised enough to finish the weekend with a sweep—and the Eagles are probably pretty comfortable with that.

COVID-19 protocols will keep American off the court this weekend.

Army head coach Dave Magarity with daughter Maureen and wife Rita. Magarity’s final home game will be against Holy Cross, now coached by Maureen. Photo credit: Army West Point Athletics

Army head coach Dave Magarity announces retirement

Army head coach Dave Magarity announced on Friday his decision to retire at the end of this season. He is in his 15th season leading West Point and the Black Knights (2-4 divisional record) currently sit in third place in the North division. Magarity shared his thoughts on the build-up to his decision in a release:

I discussed my decision with my wife Rita and my family, as well as with Athletic Director Mike Buddie and my coaching staff this past summer. I felt after 47 years as a college coach it was the right time.

Magarity has the most wins in program history with a record of 263-167 and led Army to NCAA appearances in 2013 and 2015. The team has had nine winning seasons under his direction.

The veteran coach had two previous NCAA head coaching stints for the men’s programs at Marist and St. Francis (PA). Magarity served at Marist from 1986-2004, where he was 253-258, and at St. Francis (PA) from 1978-83, with a record of 60-76.

There are so many people that have had a profound impact on my career. I can’t imagine surviving this challenging business for so long without the love and support of my wife and family.

Magarity’s final home game will be a family affair as Army will face Holy Cross on February 7th, a team coached by his daughter Maureen.

Army’s Alisa Fallon shoots over Navy defender Sophie Gatzounas in the first match-up of the service academies this season. Photo credit: Army West Point Athletics

Navy and Army split rivalry games in weekend series; what does it mean for playoffs?

In the first service academy head-to-head games of the season, Army and Navy split a weekend set. How does the result impact the playoff picture?

It’s good news for both. Each team remains both in the hunt for the second-place automatic playoff bid in their respective divisions and in the overall hunt for the two at-large playoff spots. In Navy’s win, the Mids were led by Jennifer Coleman, who posted 21 points on 5-for-11 shooting and grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds, and Sophie Gatzounas also chipped in 16 points on an efficient 7-for-12 from the floor.

The Navy defense held the Knights to just 27.7% from the field and outscored them 35-15 over the second and third quarters to lead the win, 63-49. Head coach Tim Taylor praised Coleman’s disciplined approach in his post-game release:

Jenn Coleman was pretty special today. She played under control and set the tempo from the beginning of the game. We also executed our offense and hit some clutch threes. When we can get threes from five different players it helps us space the floor for driving lanes.

In Army’s 63-58 win, freshman guard Sam McNaughton was the spark the Knights needed in the third quarter. McNaughton converted three field goals in a row and then finished the frame with a three-pointer in the final seconds to spark the win. She scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out four assists in a career-best outing.

Army looks ahead to a key North divisional match-up against Colgate. Navy’s games this weekend versus South division foe Loyola (MD) have been postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test with the Navy women’s basketball program’s Tier 1.

Current standings:

(Division record, League overall record)

North division

Boston University (5-1, 5-1)

Holy Cross (4-2, 4-4)

Army (2-4, 3-5)

Colgate (1-5, 1-5)

Central division

Bucknell (4-0, 6-0)

Lehigh (2-2, 6-2)

Lafayette (0-4, 0-4)

South division

American (3-1, 3-3)

Navy (1-1, 2-2)

Loyola (MD) (0-2, 0-4)

What’s the can’t-miss match-up of the week? Bucknell at Lehigh

It’s the second two-game set for these division and league rivals. Bucknell (4-0, 6-0) grabbed both wins in the first round to take control of the Central division. The first battle was the best game played in the league this season, a 68-60 Bison win that Lehigh (2-2, 6-2) had in control much of the way. This match-up will be no different and, as we discussed in the notebook from week two, victory is all about who wins the battle for points in the paint.

In that game, Bucknell won points in the paint, 38-18. And in the second game, it was 50-22, Bison. Lehigh must improve its offensive attack in the high post area and defend the paint a bit better to beat Bucknell.

Expect to see more rapid play but more of it utilized in a half-court game. The last match-up had pace but not a lot of easy points in transition. In the two games combined, Lehigh edged the Bison 9-6 in fast break points. Lehigh’s plan to attack with speed worked in the half court. The Mountain Hawks must continue to space the floor, move the ball, and keep their high pace of play but implement it in a half-court approach to put pressure on the Bison defense. Bucknell rotates well on defense, so staying with the possession and making the extra pass will be vital for Lehigh. The pace, even if it’s executed in the half court, is a potent weapon for the Mountain Hawks.

For the Bison, Taylor O’Brien was unstoppable last time out. Will Lehigh shift the focus of its perimeter defense away from three-point specialist Abby Kapp to help on O’Brien? Or will they choose not to double center Tessa Brugler down low? When Lehigh employs its 2-3 zone, how much will they attack the high-post catch to pressure the Bison’s high-low action?

If the game is close down the stretch, Lehigh should be prepared to improve its end-game tactics with a set piece or two to give each key offensive possession a focus and direction for the finish. This is the most intriguing match-up of the season. Expect to learn a whole lot about Lehigh’s mental toughness in this round. Don’t count the Mountain Hawks out; they’re better than they were two weeks ago.

The last meeting: January 17, 2021. Bucknell controlled the game throughout behind 18 points apiece from Abby Kapp and Taylor O’Brien and won, 80-66. Lehigh shot poorly at 36.7% but the story was the Mountain Hawk defense. The Bison got nearly any look they wanted and shot 51.7% from the field. O’Brien drove the paint at will and Kapp shot 8-for-13, including two threes. The energy and commitment that fueled Lehigh in game one didn’t look the same and they faded in the fourth quarter. Mary Clougherty led them with 15 points off the bench.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week:

(Note: The Patriot League is no longer streaming games for free on the Stadium platform. All games are now streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition.)

January 30th

+Navy at Loyola (MD) (postponed)

Lafayette at Loyola (MD) @1:00p.m. (replacement game added on 1/29)

^American at Lafayette @2:00p.m. (postponed)

Lehigh at Bucknell @2:00p.m.

*Holy Cross at Boston University (postponed)

Army at Colgate @3:00p.m.

January 31st

*Boston University at Holy Cross (postponed)

+Loyola (MD) at Navy @3:00p.m. (postponed)

Loyola (MD) at Lafayette @2:00p.m. (replacement game added on 1/29)

Army at Colgate @3:00p.m.

^Lafayette at American @4:00p.m. (postponed)

Bucknell at Lehigh @4:00p.m.

*Postponed due to a rise in positive COVID-19 tests on the Boston University campus. The BU Department of Athletics has initiated a pause of all athletic activities for the remainder of January.

+Postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Navy women’s basketball program’s Tier 1.

^Postponed because American is awaiting the required test results to satisfy university and Patriot League testing protocols.

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Mariah Sexe, Lehigh, Senior Forward

  • Earned her first career double-double in a weekend-opening 87-68 win over Holy Cross. Sexe scored 25 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.

  • Just missed another double-double with a 16-point, 9-rebound effort in an 83-62 win to complete the two-game sweep.

  • Sexe shot 19-for-29 (65.5%) from the field in the sweep.

Patriot League Rookie of the Week:

Mackenzie Kramer, Lehigh, Freshman Guard

  • Sank four three-pointers in the Mountain Hawks’ 87-68 win over the Crusaders.

  • Kramer is 17-for-43 (39.5%) from the behind the arc—good for sixth best in the league.

  • She’s averaging 10.3 points per game and has hit double-digits in scoring 5 times this season, including the 12-point effort versus Holy Cross.

League news and notes:

  • Sophomore guard Addison Cross scored a career-best 12 points as Holy Cross fell 83-62 to Lehigh.

  • In a 67-58 loss to American, Loyola (MD) forward Emily McAteer scored 11 points for her third consecutive double-digit scoring game.

  • Freshman forward Janelle Allen scored 12 points in just 15 minutes of action for Holy Cross in an 87-68 loss to Lehigh. She was 4-for-7 from the floor.

  • American’s Ivy Bales hauled in a season-high eight rebounds in the Eagles’ 64-45 win over Loyola (MD). The freshman has started the last three games and is posting 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

  • The COVID-19 impact: just three teams—Army, Holy Cross and Lehigh—have played in all eight scheduled conference games this season. Seven of the 10 league teams have missed games due to coronavirus protocols or a positive test in their Tier 1 group. That group will drop to two this weekend with the postponement of the Holy Cross-Boston University match-ups.

  • Indeya Sanders (24-for-28) and Jade Edwards (30-for-38) are among the league leaders in free throw shooting. Their teammates at American are just a combined 30-for 58 for 51.7%.

  • Bucknell (6-0) is winning games by a league-leading 21.3 points per game.

  • Boston University’s defense is producing 9.3 steals per game.

  • Loyola (MD) senior forward Isabella Therien made her season debut this weekend against American. Therien made her first start since the 2018-19 season after playing in just two games last year due to injury. She averaged 7.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in the two-game set. She was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2017-18.

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Written by Todd Goclowski

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