The three seniors on the IUP women’s basketball team each assumed vastly different roles this year for the playoff-bound Crimson Hawks.
But that’s not to say that Melanie Todd, Jessica Wallace and Talen Watson don’t have plenty in common.
Todd, Wallace and Watson are all 5-foot-8 guards who transferred to IUP together in the spring of 2011, and they all consider the move one of the wisest of their college careers.
For the third straight season, the Crimson Hawks will compete in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament, which begins Saturday with a first-round game against Pitt Johnstown at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. It will be IUP’s last home game of the season.
On the cusp of their last playoff runs, Todd, Wallace and Watson reflected nostalgically on their choices to transfer to IUP in 2011.
“(Coming to) IUP was the best decision of my life,” said Todd, who transferred from Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.). “I love this team.”
“Absolutely not,” said Wallace when asked if she regretted her choice to leave the Northern British Columbia to come to IUP. “I’ve met some really amazing people here, and I wouldn’t change my decision for anything. It’s a little far from home, but it’s been worth it, and I definitely wouldn’t change anything.”
“I love my teammates and they get me through every day,” said Watson, who transferred from Division I Massachusetts. “I’ve developed relationships that I’ll have for the rest of my life, so I’m pretty pleased with the decision.”
First-year IUP coach Tom McConnell replaced the man responsible for landing the team’s three seniors, former coach Jeff Dow. McConnell described the galvanizing bond he’s formed with the senior trio in the 8? months since his hiring.
“We’ve already been through so much together,” McConnell said. “That’s why Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called one of his first books, “A Season Is A Lifetime,” because in one season you experience so many things together. And when I think back on these three seniors, from the day I arrived on campus until now, I feel like they’ve went from players that I was coaching to three daughters that I don’t want to say goodbye to. I really feel that connection with these girls. They’re really good, young women, and all three of them are going to do great things.”
Watson, a Maryland native who started 12 games in her injury-plagued junior year, found her nich? as the team’s point guard this season. She started 17 of 26 games and has amassed 8.3 points, 2.6 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game. Watson also made 59 of 64 foul shots to pace the team in free throw shooting percentage (.920).
A year after cracking the starting lineup 18 times, Virginia native Todd played in each of IUP’s 26 games, although she started just four. Still, Todd finished sixth on the team in total rebounds (79) and fifth in total offensive rebounds (34). Last year, Todd led the team in total rebounds (189), total offensive rebounds (96) and rebounds per game (5.9) and finished third in blocks (8) and fourth in steals (29).
Wallace has logged just 28 minutes in nine games his year. She’s scored three points, grabbed two rebounds, dished out two assists and recorded a block. In 13 games last year, Wallace hit five 3-point field goals, scored 20 points, tallied 10 assists and grabbed four rebounds.
“They’re all really special and we’re going to hate to say goodbye to them,” McConnell said. “That’s why we’ve got to keep the season going so we can keep coaching them and they can keep playing.”
The Hawks punched their ninth straight ticket to a PSAC tournament. The last year IUP missed the playoffs was the final year of former interim coach Justin English’s tenure, the 2004-05 season.