If Wednesday's match-up was any barometer of the York College women's basketball team, this year's squad showed it could go far this season.
In their first real test of the 22-game regular-season schedule, the Spartans on Wednesday posted an impressive 65-52 non-conference win over visiting Eastern Mennonite, which entered ranked No. 24 in NCAA Division III in the latest USA Today Coaches' Poll.
"This is a huge win for our team," York senior forward Kristen Haley said "Coach (Betsy Witman) said before the game this a ranked team. This is an NCAA (tournament)-type game for us. This proves early on that we have the potential to go far in the (NCAA) tournament if we just play up to our abilities."
In a doubleheader at the Grumbacher Center, the York College men's team followed the women's game and lost close to visiting Gettysburg, 59-57.
Women: One of four three-year starters returning to York this season, Haley paced the Spartans (3-0) with 16 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-foot forward also had a pair of 3-pointers and recorded three blocks to become the school's all-time leader in blocked shots (147).
With the win, York certainly made a case for being put into the Top 25 rankings, although Haley doesn't much mind the Spartans having been left out to this point despite their returning talent from a 20-7 season a year ago.
"We talked about it before the season started. We're OK with not being a ranked team," Haley said. "We don't have a target on our back. All the pressure is on them this game."
Just about all the facets that make York go were on display Wednesday. There was senior forward Brittany Hicks, battling a nagging right shoulder injury, providing a double threat in the paint with Haley by pumping in a game-high 17 points, 12 of them coming in the first half. There was senior guard Kelsey Murphy, typically a 3-point shooter, flashing new skills in driving to the paint and finishing with 13 points. There was the deep second team coming off the bench to contribute to York's 22-2 first-half run to put the Spartans up 26-11 after being down 9-4 in the first five minutes -- the Spartans led 35-29 at half. And there was senior point guard Aja Wallpher (six points, four steals, three assists), already battling lingering back and leg soreness, basically playing with one arm thanks to several collisions on rebounds and loose balls. Oh, and starting guard Jess Selby (five points, four rebounds) is also coming off a knee injury that cost her all but two games last season.
"It's a testament to the heart (of the team) with the injuries the girls have," Haley said. "They come out. They put their injuries aside while they're on the floor. Half the time Aja can't even lift her right arm up, yet she's still bringing the ball up the floor and making awesome passes."
Despite holding a double-digit lead for much of the second half against a Top-25 team, York rarely attempted to run out the clock and instead kept attacking. It was the Spartans' 29-percent shooting in the second half that helped Eastern Mennonite (2-1) close to within 59-52 with 1:23 to play before York scored the final six points, capped off by a Haley layup.
"We were just running our motion offense at the end," Witman said. "We weren't running any sets. This team just does a great job of reading each other. After every game this year that's the compliment that I get 'This team just plays so well together. They really make good reads and you can tell they've played together for four years.' But even people coming off the bench, they're meshing really well. I just thought we had a lot of composure at the end and did what we needed to do. Great win for our program."
The Spartans will next travel to Franklin & Marshall (1-2) for a non-conference game this Saturday before returning home for a non-conference match-up against McDaniel (3-0) on Tuesday.
Men lose close: In a match-up of two similar men's teams -- both combine for 24 underclassmen -- Gettysburg and York battled it out in a competitive back-and-forth game. It was essentially the first taste for many York players of a down-to-the-wire contest, and the Spartans nearly passed the test.
With Gettysburg (1-2) leading 57-55 with 17.1 seconds to play, the Bullets in-bounded a pass on the York end that was stolen by Spartans' senior Matt McNeely (18 points, 12 rebounds). McNeely quickly found teammate Mike Mathews (17 points, six rebounds), who drove to the middle of the lane and attempted a potential game-tying shot that was instead blocked by defender Sango Amolo. Gettysburg grabbed the loose ball and finished on the other end.
"I really thought we handled the end-of-the-game situation very, very well," York coach Matt Hunter said. "Especially for the guys we had on the floor to execute the way we did, that was pretty good. You don't want to be in that situation but we handled it quite well."
Trailing 24-19 at intermission, the Spartans (1-2) opened the second half with a 16-7 run to give them their largest lead of the game, 35-31, with 14:31 remaining. The Bullets responded with 12-2 run of their own to go up 43-37 with 9:30 remaining and later stretched their lead to 53-43 with 4:35 left.
The York men will next go on the road at Messiah (3-0) this Saturday before kicking off its Capital Athletic Conference schedule on the road at Wesley (3-0) on Dec. 1. The Spartans next return home Dec. 4 for a CAC game against Penn State-Harrisburg (1-2).
-- Reach John Walk at email@example.com.