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IUP’s defense is back to its old ways this season.

One of the top defensive teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in recent years, the IUP women’s basketball team picked up where it left off prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through four games to start the 2021-22 season, the Crimson Hawks (4-0) are undefeated and holding opponents to just 42.0 points per game while limiting them to 24.7 percent shooting. None of their first four opponents have shot better than 27 percent from the field.

In their most recent win over the University of the District of Columbia on Sunday, a 63-53 victory, the Crimson Hawks held the Firebirds to 22.6 percent shooting (14-for-62), including 3-for-17 from 3-point range.

“IUP played amazing defense,” UDC coach John Nakpodia said following Sunday’s game. “They really stifled us. … They had an amazing defensive game plan against us. Their size, it really alters a lot of shots for you. A lot of our young ladies aren’t used to playing against players so big, so versatile.”

IUP was even better in the first half of Sunday’s game. The Crimson Hawks held UDC to 14.3 percent shooting from the floor (4-for-28) while building a 15-point halftime lead.

“Outstanding team defense in the first half,” IUP coach Tom McConnell said. “The second half got away from us a little bit. We were fouling a little too much, gave up a couple 3s, but just an outstanding job in the first half.”

With the 2020-21 season canceled due to the pandemic, IUP hadn’t played a meaningful game since March 8, 2020, when the Crimson Hawks lost to Gannon in the PSAC championship. That season, IUP’s defense allowed 53.3 points allowed per game to lead the PSAC. The Crimson Hawks also owned a conference-best rebounding margin of plus-9.5.

The Crimson Hawks are trending in the same direction this season. Not only are they allowing 42.0 points per game, they also own a plus-17 rebounding margin through the first two weeks of the season.

Redshirt senior Maura D’Anna leads the team with 8.5 rebounds per game, followed by freshman guard Gina Adams with 7.3.

A point guard in high school, Adams hasn’t yet gotten a chance to run the offense in her first collegiate season with sophomore Maria Cerro and freshman Kiera Baughman getting most of the reps at point guard.

But Adams has found other ways to contribute to the team. At 5-foot-11, she has proven herself to be a tough rebounder, collecting at least six rebounds in all four games this season.

“I do take pride in rebounding and doing those sorts of things, but it’s definitely not the type of player I am,” she said after Sunday’s game. “I think that I am an offensive threat, but I’ve been struggling with confidence and finding where I fit in on the team. … I’m still building that offensive game and right now, the only thing that’s really showing to my best ability is rebounding. I’m still trying to get that offensive, you know, scoring the basketball to be even with my rebounding level, and I think that it’ll get there eventually.”

So does McConnell.

“She’s this close to breaking out,” he said. “She’s really a versatile offensive player. She can score the ball. She can shoot the 3. She can get to the rim. We see it in practice every day, and I’m really excited about how it’s going to translate to the game. She’s going to keep growing and I think she’s eventually going to be a double-digit scorer for us.”

Adams and Baughman were part of IUP’s 2020 recruiting class. They will forever be known as the “COVID recruiting class.” Although they didn’t get to play any games last season, they earned valuable experience practicing with the team last season. And it’s translating on the court this season.

“I definitely think it helped us, just to build chemistry with our teammates,” Adams said. “It was almost like a practice run for a real season. It’s nice to finally be able to play and actually have games that count. And I definitely think that we’re still trying to grow individually and that we still have so much potential to work up to and build confidence when we’re on the court.”

“I feel pretty comfortable, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Baughman said last week. “They set me up for most of my shots, and I’d say I’m really comfortable because they all welcomed me in just like a family.”