By Tom Robinson
Emily Sheehan entered the Small Fry portion of Dunmore Biddy Basketball when she was in kindergarten.
After 15-plus years of growing in the game, through the NEPA Flames and JB Hoops AAU teams at Backcourt Hoops, through the steps of the Dunmore program, Sheehan is now faced with the beginning of the end of her competitive playing days as she embarks upon her senior season at the University of Scranton.
“It’s bittersweet to see that it’s coming to an end,” said Sheehan, a senior guard for the Lady Royals, who open the season tonight at 8 against Ursinus in the Gwynedd Mercy Tournament. “Just to think how many years I’ve spent playing the game, it’s just crazy to think that I only have one year left.”
The reigning Landmark Conference Defensive Player of the Year could be altering the look of her game a bit in that final season.
Following a fourth straight Landmark title and a trip to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Final Four, coach Trevor Woodruff left to become head coach at Bucknell University.
Nick DiPillo was hired to make his head coaching debut, promising a faster pace with a bit more emphasis on the offensive end after the Lady Royals ranked eighth nationally in fewest points allowed with Sheehan leading the way.
“It was surprising, but at the same time it wasn’t,” Sheehan said. “Coach Woodruff is such a great coach, I wouldn’t expect anything less than him to move up to D-I. So, that obviously wasn’t unexpected.”
The timing, however, created something that Sheehan has not faced during her time in the game.
“Through all my years playing, I’ve never had a major coaching change, then to have it my senior year was a little difficult because I’ve been used to the same system for three years,” Sheehan said.
The four returning senior starters wondered what was next. What type of coach would they get? How much would they be asked to change the formula for success that is a big reason they open the season as Landmark Conference favorite and ranked third nationally by D3Hoops.com and fifth by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
DiPillo has spoken openly about his desire to pick up the pace offensively, but Sheehan praises the new coach’s patience with the players learning the changes and points out that not everything will be different about Scranton basketball.
“Our offense is a little bit different,” Sheehan said. “It’s going to be a little more high speed, looking to score and shoot more, but beside that, our defense is the same, our philosophy is the same.
“We’re still going to have the targets on our back, which is exciting for us.”
The individual differences for Sheehan can be found in the responsibilities that go with being a senior.
The loads of experience that Sheehan and fellow seniors Makenzie Mason, Sofia Recupero and Lily Warhaftig bring make Scranton a feared team. But, after the four seniors who all started 30 or more games last season, the Lady Royals are young.
“There are only four seniors and there’s only one junior, so it’s basically five upperclassmen and the rest are all underclassmen,” Sheehan said. “Going into the season that way, it’s definitely putting a lot of pressure on the underclassmen. We need to really be leaders and show the underclassmen how college basketball works and how people are expecting a lot out of us.”
Tough perimeter defense has long been expected of Sheehan, the team leader in steals with 40 last season when Scranton allowed fewer than 49 points per game.
But, her offensive game was also expanding before DiPillo’s arrival. A career 79.5 percent shooter from the line, Sheehan is the sixth-most accurate career 3-point shooter in Scranton history at 36.4 percent. She reached double figures in scoring 14 times while averaging 8.9 points last season and earning second-team Landmark Conference all-star honors.
Sheehan has already made 73 collegiate starts and played in a total of 82 games.
As 5-foot-6 guard nears the end of her playing days, she will be looking to help the many new faces in the Scranton program get off to a positive start.