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Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Beat (And Wins) Continue At Division II Holy Family

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA --
Though the Holy Family women’s team underwent a significant coaching change a year ago in May 2009, one thing that remains the same is the Tigers’ ability to continue their winning tradition.

Following the departure of Mike McLaughlin to Penn in Philadelphia’s Big Five in Division I, Mark Miller has not disappointed athletic director Sandra Michael and her expectations after she hired him off a three-year run at Division III Norwich University in Vermont.

The Tigers went 30-3 last season, advancing to the NCAA Division II East Region final and finishing 13th in the USA Today/ESPN Division II Coaches Poll.

“Mark was a great candidate, he was a viable candidate from the get-go,” Michael said Monday night after Holy opened the season with an impressive and thrilling 92-84 victory over No. 24 Bentley at the Tigers’ Campus Center in Northeast Philadelphia.

“It seemed like the team just jelled under his direction,” she continued. “The team was used to a lot of discipline from the past and Mark has picked up on that. He knows what we expect.

“We expect to win and get to the national tournament. That is our goal for this year.”

Apparently the coaches across the country have the same belief. They picked Holy Family fifth in the preseason poll. The Tigers also gained a nod to fourth in the Division II Bulletin Top 25 and are again the overwhelming favorites to win the South in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.

When McLaughlin, the coach to reach 400 wins the fastest, departed, Miller had no qualms about seeking to fill the vacancy.

“Absolutely,” he said of his immediate desire. “I knew it was one of the best Division II jobs in the country and it was a chance for me to come back home – I grew up in the Maryland area but spent a lot of time recruiting in the Philly area. It was something I wanted really, really bad.

“I came in with the idea of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I just tweaked it a bit. To be honest, I haven’t done a whole lot of different things this year than we did last year.”

Bentley bolted to a nine-point lead in the first half Monday night before Holy Family surged to go to the break with a 48-47 advantage.

In the second half, following the 11th tie of the game at 71-71 with just under nine minutes to play, The Tigers went on a tear roaring to a 10-point lead in the final minute.

“It was important to get off to a good start, knowing they’re a very, very good team and there’s a good chance we’ll see them later down the road,” Miller said. “It was important for us to come in and play the way we can and I thought we did that overall tonight.”

Erin Mann, a 6-foot-1 sophomore forward-center out of Villa Maria Academy, had a career high with 25 points, while grabbing 11 rebounds. Senior forward Catherine Carr, the team’s top returning player, had 19 points and 10 assists, while Lindsey Tennett scored 14 points, Meghan Gibson had 16, and Samantha Thompson scored 11.

“These guys know what it takes to win and play hard,” Miller said. “They are a great nucleus of players and leadership.”

Mann considered the win a payback for last year’s loss to Bentley in New England.

“It was definitely a revenge game. We felt that if we had played them at the end of last year, we would definitely win.”

Mann spoke of her own contributions.

“I had no idea I had that many points until I got off the floor so I must have been in a zone.”

Katherine Goodwin scored 15 for Bentley and Elise Caira had 14 points.

The Falcons are coached by veteran Barbara Stevens, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer who is in her 25th season and just seven wins from reaching the 800 level.

“It had the feel of a postseason game and the kids played so hard,” Stevens said afterwards. “The good news is we scored 84 points, the bad news is we gave up 91.

“I think the thing about it is it’s the first game of the year and you can’t be putting heads down and giving up hope. It’s way too early for that. But they’re a very good team.

”Mann was just a bear on the boards. We couldn’t keep her off. And then we went into a lull.”

Miller said he is trying to bring the younger players into the mix as the last of the McLaughlin era gets ready to move on but he is delighted to still have Carr for another season.

“She is a special player,” Miller said. “If you’re lucky to get only one in your career, that’s the best kind. She is just a complete player all around and does whatever your team needs her to do to win.

“Erin made big plays. She doesn’t realize at times how good she is going to be and once she figures out the college game a little bit better, she’s going to be really, really, good. She has a lot of weapons and is really athletic.”

Miller also spent nine seasons as an assistant in Division I with stops at Mt. St. Mary’s, Loyola of Maryland and at Georgia Tech when Pitt coach Agnus McGlade of South Jersey was in charge of the Yellow Jackets.

Many Holy Family players performed as a unit, allowable under NCAA rules in Division II, and advanced to the finals of the Philadelphia Dept. of Recreation NCAA Women’s Summer League in Hatboro.

“It was awesome since we didn’t have all our teammates because of travel,” Mann said. “We were one of the bottom seeds and came back and got to the finals.

Carr also played in the league with the Tigers.

“Summer league is really good because it keeps all the girls active and you build a chemistry,” Carr said. “The freshmen got to play with us so they get to see what it’s like to play college basketball. So it definitely helps us keep our chemistry going.”

She also spoke of transition from McLaughlin to Miller.

“Mike is a great coach and I’m grateful for the two years for having him” Carr said. “He taught me a lot. But now that I’m senior it’s different – new coach, different players and I have to take more of a leadership role.

“Coach Miller got to come into a pretty good situation with the roster – good personnel. He was able to teach us to play basketball more freely with our type of offense. So our offense allowed us to develop as basketball players and not just running plays.

“He brings a lot of charisma and is very passionate about what he does so he makes us more passionate.”

Next up is a home visit Wednesday night at 7 p.m. from Kutztown in a nonconference tilt.

-- Mel

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