Many of the characteristics that made the York College women's basketball team successful a year ago were on display again Thursday night.
Forward Kristen Haley controlled the paint. Junior Brittany Hicks collected rebounds and knocked down shots from inside and out. Point guard Aja Wallpher pushed the pace on both ends of the floor. And a talented Spartans' guard caused headaches for the opponent throughout the game. Only this time, her name wasn't April Sparkman.
All of those factors added up to a season-opening 55-44 victory over Johns Hopkins inside Charles Wolf Gymnasium.
Making the first start of her college career, junior guard Jess Selby did a good job of making fans forget about Sparkman, who graduated after leading York in scoring a year ago, when the Spartans reached the NCAA Division III Sweet 16. Selby, a 5-foot, 10-inch guard from Maryland, scored a career-high 16 points to lead a Spartans' lineup that includes four returning starters.
"When I recruited her I knew she was special," York coach Betsy Witman said. "Unfortunately she kind of had to wait her turn. She needed some work on the defensive end. But she's always been a great offensive player and now she has that opportunity to be a starter."
York (1-0), which is ranked No. 19 in the ESPN/USA Today NCAA Division III preseason poll and No. 18 by d3hoops.com, did a nice job of living up to its billing against Johns Hopkins (0-1), which won 24 games and reached the second round of the NCAA D-III playoffs last season. Johns Hopkins brought back just two starters, but one of those included talented forward Alex Vassila, who averaged 10.8 points a game last year.
The Spartans neutralized Vassila (five points, 10 rebounds) by using a 2-3 zone defense. They also attacked the 6-foot, 1-inch senior early in the game and got Vassila to pick up her second foul at the 12:01 mark in the first half. That's when York opened up the game, using a 14-3 run -- capped off with a pair of 3-pointers from Selby -- to push its lead to 24-12 over the next six minutes while Vassila sat on the bench.
"It's a total mental transition when you get a little more playing time," Selby said. "You can really keep your head in the game. You just zone out everything else and you can focus on the game and stay calm throughout it."
The Spartans pushed the lead to 50-29 -- their largest of the game -- when Hicks drained her final shot of the night with 6:51 to play. Hicks, a York Catholic grad, tallied 14 points and 12 rebounds to record her 12th career double-double. Haley nabbed her 14th career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Wallpher finished with six points, seven steals and five assists.
Next game: York will use Friday as a travel day to head to Greensboro, N.C. for a two-day, four-team tournament this weekend at Guilford College. The Spartans will play their next five games on the road before returning home Dec. 4 to host F&M.
Game notes: Both York (21-of-61) and Johns Hopkins (18-of-52) shot 34 percent from the floor. ... The Spartans had 15 assists compared to Johns Hopkins' six dishes. ... The daughter of former New York Yankees' outfielder Bernie Williams, Beatriz, scored her first career points for Johns Hopkins with a pair of free throws in the second half.
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.