Hamilton, ON- When McMaster Marauders first-year guard Jocelyn Newby is in a game, she works on keeping her focus. It’s a theme throughout the season for the McMaster Marauders women’s basketball team.
Head coach Theresa Burns talks to them about “Gold Medal Details” and the mental focus required throughout all 40 minutes for them to improve and reach their potential. For them to become – as Burns describes it – a finished product this season.
Against Laurier on Jan. 27, that certainly could be the case. While McMaster went out to a double-digit lead, the Golden Hawks kept the score relatively close late in the game before the Marauders won 86-71. Despite the victory, there were details to be improved on.
Newby’s heard from teammates and coaches about those details, that focus when things aren’t going well. For her, during games, she turns to her defence.
“Some things aren’t always going to go my way offensively but…I’m always going to be there defensively and I can always start there and translate that onto offence,” Newby said.
She’s made an impact on both offence and defence. The Guelph native has been earning more playing time as the season’s gone on. She scored her first regular season points against Brock last November. She set a career-high in assists and rebounds (three each) against Algoma on Jan. 21. She recorded her first career block.
Now, against Laurier, she was setting career-highs once again. Newby finished with 11 points on four made field goals and three rebounds. Yet the stat that got caught the eye was her team-high six steals.
Her length and quickness help her in getting those steals, according to her. Knowing the scouting reporting helps as well. She’s able to force opposing players to do what they were uncomfortable doing.
The Marauders pressed at times, something they’ve worked on in practice. Burns said it comes from all five players being in the right position – switching and trapping well. Even at times when she didn’t get the steal, Newby still caused difficulties for the opponents.
Burns mentioned how Newby listens, pays attention and works hard in practice. From that listening and work, comes understanding.
“Understanding how quick you have to make decisions, how physical you have to be with the ball in your hands,” Burns added. “Physical on cuts, physical on rebounds but physically protecting the ball when it’s in your hands.”
Newby experiences that physicality in practice as well – which she said has helped her out a lot. “I’m the only first-year so I have to be able to play against that,” she noted. Newby said she still has a long way to go.
Speaking of practice…it’s where the Marauders’ work takes place to become that finished product. The Laurier game showed the work still need to do. While the Marauders caused 27 turnovers, they also coughed up the ball 25 times themselves.
Burns said it comes from attention to detail and miscommunication. They forgot reads and cuts at times. “The nice part about it is it’s all manageable, it’s all controllable,” she noted. “It’s all stuff in us to fix.”
Fifth-year guard Mia Spadafora was one of the seniors that’s been there in 2019 when they nailed the Gold Medal details into an OUA and national title. She said getting that comes from resilience, grit and accountability.
It starts with their practices – which can be an hour and a half. Spadafora said the mental aspect is tougher than the physical. Their goal is to mentally focus during the whole practice.
“When you can do that, you can translate into a game,” she continued. “When you do that, every shift you get in that game, you can be mentally intact, mentally focused, mentally tough.”
The crux of that accountability? When everyone’s willing to play their role, according to Spadafora. During games, it can even come from someone being on the court for five to 10 minutes, which she said can be a game changer.
Like Newby did in her 18 minutes of action against Laurier. Spadafora sees how hard Newby works in practice. How she deals with point guard Arianne Soriano’s intense defence every day – which she calls a nightmare. She sees Newby hitting her shots and making her steals versus the Golden Hawks.
Spadafora and Soriano see and feel the energy Newby provides. When Soriano sees her teammates’ effort and energy during practices and games, it fuels her to do the same.
Soriano recalls how fun it feels seeing Newby excel – especially defensively – making her want to play even more defence herself. She recalls when she was in Newby’s position five years ago as a first-year guard coming from Mississauga.
Her tenacity and energy were forged from an early age. Soriano grew up playing against boys, where it was hard enough at times even getting the basketball. It made her tougher and perhaps hungrier to do so.
Soriano showed that energy and tenacity early on at McMaster. Perhaps it became instinctual. During games, she’ll be so laser focused on getting the ball, she’ll even run into her teammates going for the rebound. “My eyes are on the ball,” she said. “I want the ball. Let’s get another offensive try.”
Soriano is averaging a career-best 5.2 rebounds in her fourth season. Back in her earlier seasons, she learned from teammates Erin Burns, Linnaea Harper and Christina Buttenham. She learned from how they made an impact offensively and defensively. She’s learned how to be a better point guard over time.
“If anything, her first year, it was like 100 miles an hour but without control or without eyes up making good decisions,” Burns said earlier this season. “She’s learning how to play fast but make better decisions with it as well too
She learned from how Buttenham pushed her teammates at practice. Now, Soriano’s doing the same with her younger teammates – including Newby. “I want myself to be the hardest opponent they have to go up against defensively-wise, so that when we go into these games in the season, it’s like nothing for them,” she said.
The point guard also takes the time to communicate. At times, she’ll talk with Newby and some of her teammates about working on a particular thing defensively. Then, they’ll take the time to do so after practice.
In some ways, Soriano’s role at McMaster has come full circle. She is to currently Newby and her younger teammates what Buttenham, Burns, Harper and others were to her back in her first and second seasons.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, Newby will find herself in that position as well. She’ll be the one working with her first and second-year teammates, giving them guidance and tips that Soriano once gave her. She’ll be telling them about those Gold Medal details.
She’ll be the one pushing them in practice with her intense defence. Then, maybe she’ll be the one celebrating and feeling the energy when she’s sees them scoring, making plays and getting steals – like she did as a rookie.
Featured Image: Stephen Leithwood/McMaster Athletics