Although she'd never admit to it, Aja Wallpher could easily characterize the training room at York College's Grumbacher Center as her second home.
Now in her fourth year as the starting point guard for the women's basketball team, Wallpher has seen her fair share of nagging injuries. Even now, she battles through pain in her back and wrist and has to tape her right pinky finger each game because of structural damage. But those are problems that can't get worse and will only go away when she's done playing.
They also haven't kept her out of action at any point in her York career. Rather, it was a quadriceps injury in her left leg that finally caused her to sit out of the Spartans' 79-48 win at Wesley last Sunday.
"I think this Thanksgiving break and sitting out versus Wesley I gave it a chance to heal," Wallpher said Wednesday night. "We're seven games into the season and this is the first time where I've been pretty much pain-free. Usually I'm covered in ice from head to toe."
In her return Wednesday, Wallpher nearly posted a triple-double in York's 84-41 Capital Athletic Conference win over visiting Penn State Harrisburg (3-4 overall, 0-1 CAC). The red-haired, 5-foot, 8-inch senior posted eight points, nine assists and seven rebounds. It's all the more remarkable considering that Wallpher woke up Wednesday morning with an eye infection, evident in the white of her right eye having turned red.
"I'm told if I can tolerate it then I'm gonna play. If it's a quad, if you play with a weakened quad, you're more susceptible to knee injuries, and those could be season-ending," Wallpher said. "So it's hard with the wrist pain and constantly jamming my finger and the back pain, that stuff is not gonna get worse. It's just a matter of sucking it up. Generally I don't really feel it when I'm playing."
Fellow seniors and four-year starters Kristen Haley (19 points, five rebounds) and Brittany Hicks (15 points, nine rebounds) paced York (7-0, 2-0) in its final tune-up before Christopher Newport (5-1) comes to town this Saturday for a 1 p.m. showdown. Christopher Newport, in its first year as a member of the CAC, is ranked No. 14 in NCAA Division III in the USA Today Coaches' poll and No. 15 by d3hoops.com. A win there would keep York undefeated and likely put the Spartans in the Top 25 for the first time since the mid-point of last season.
While York coach Betsy Witman said her team will play the underdog role Saturday, the fearless Wallpher wasn't afraid to take some verbal jabs at CNU in support of the Spartans.
"I think we're all coming in very confident. I think CNU should be scared. Coming in 7-0 is big and I think we've beaten some pretty good teams and we've had girls step up. It's gonna be hard for them to stop us," Wallpher said. "I wouldn't wanna be in their shoes."
York Catholic grad Karli McFatridge, a sophomore who transferred to York from Juniata over the offseason, came off the bench to collect a career-high five rebounds to go along with four points in Wednesday's win. Spartans' freshman Morgan Golec, a 5-foot-10 forward from Maryland, posted a career-high eight points off the bench.
The York College men's team fell to 1-5 overall and 0-2 in the CAC by losing, 70-65, to visiting Penn State Harrisburg (3-3, 1-0) on Wednesday. The lead changed hands eight times in the first half, which included York growing its largest lead to 21-17 at the 8:21 mark. Harrisburg closed the first half with a 14-6 run to take a 37-30 advantage into intermission. The Spartans trailed by single digits most of the second half and pulled within six points six times in the final 5:07 of action. A Ryan Beaver 3-pointer cut the deficit to 66-62 with 11 seconds to play and a Matt McNeely trey cut it to 68-65 with three seconds remaining.
York actually outshot Harrisburg in total shots made (22-21) and field goal percentage (46.8 percent to 43.8 percent) and outrebounded the Lions, 34-30. But the Spartans went just 17-of-29 (58.6 percent) at the free throw line. McNeely paced York with a game-high 21 points, while teammate Mike Mathews chipped in 14 points.
York next hosts Christopher Newport (5-1) in a CAC action at 3 p.m. Saturday.