UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Cedarville women’s basketball Head Coach Kari Hoffman had a simple mindset going into Sunday’s Oct. 29 exhibition game at Penn State University.
Put simply, Hoffman was hoping her players would have a ‘really good practice’: Play well, work hard, be fundamentally sound, improve from the team’s previous scrimmage, get valuable experience for all 12 available players, and come away healthy and ready for the regular-season games that count.
But at the end of the third quarter, with the Lady Jackets enjoying a surprising four-point lead at PSU’s Bryce Jordan Center, the plan changed. Hoffman glanced up at the scoreboard, looked at her team, and said with a laugh, “Why not? Let’s go win this thing.”
Cedarville did just that, using a stifling defensive performance to shock their Division-I hosts, 59-53. The Jackets held Penn State to 31 percent shooting for the game, including a remarkable 2-for-18 showing in the decisive third quarter.
PSU struggled to manufacture a consistent offensive attack without injured All-American guard Teniya Page, and Cedarville hounded the favored Nittany Lions into difficult, contested shots from start to finish.
Hoffman appreciated her team’s defensive effort, but the way the Jackets rebounded despite a noticeable size disadvantage was even more impressive to the second-year head coach. CU finished the day with 41 rebounds compared to Penn State’s 42.
“They were just way more athletic than us and I knew that was going to be a battle,” said Hoffman.
Only one player in the game reached double digits in rebounding, and it was a Lady Jacket: Senior Breanne Watterworth, who grabbed 10 in 28 minutes.
“We are small and they were big … but we were determined to box them out and get rebounds. That was a focus we had going into the game and we did it,” Watterworth said.
The fact that the game was only an exhibition allowed the Jackets to play free and loose, and their confidence showed.
“It’s all about us playing well and to our standard,” Hoffman said. “It’s not who we’re competing against.”
“We had no pressure whatsoever,” said senior Regina Hochstetler, Cedarville’s leading returning scorer from a year ago. “It was a really cool opportunity. I was excited to get to play a Big Ten school, to go out and prove ourselves, and to have so much fun doing it. Coming in as supposedly the underdog, we wanted to really show we were playing for a greater purpose – for the name on the front of our jersey and for Christ.”
After trailing 28-22 at halftime, the Yellow Jackets used a 12-0 third-quarter run to take a lead they would not relinquish, including key three-pointers from junior Baylee Bennett and senior Kaitlyn Holm. Bennett, who had a team-high 18 points, was proud of her team’s composure on a high-profile stage.
“We knew coming in that they were going to be a lot bigger, being at a bigger school,” the 5-foot-5 guard said. “Our approach was just to be fearless.”
Bennett finished with five three-pointers, but none were more important than her final two shots of the afternoon that kept the Nittany Lions at bay: One equaled CU’s largest lead at nine points with 2:25 left, and the other basically put the game out of reach in the last minute.
“Those last couple shots were just daggers,” Hoffman said.
“When the final buzzer went off, I just remember feeling super proud of our team and a rush of excitement for what could come the rest of the season,” said Hochstetler. The Jackets calmly shook hands with their opponents and then raced off the floor to (loudly!) celebrate as a team, with Hochstetler describing the locker room atmosphere later as ‘like nothing I’ve ever experienced.’
Expectations for the upcoming year were already high thanks to five returning starters, and Sunday’s result will certainly give the Jackets momentum heading into next week’s regular season opener against Wisconsin-Parkside, even if CU’s record is still technically 0-0.
“It’s a great starting point for us,” Watterworth said. “It puts us at a high standard and now we have to be there every game: Play to that same level, have that same intensity. When we’re in the middle of the season or late in the season – we can think back to this game and [remember]: ‘We can do this. We did it, and we can do it.’”
Story courtesy of Tim Cary of Cedarville University.