By John Shimer
---- — Success in basketball at the high school and college level is often synonymous with good guard play, especially at the point.
Two former River Rival standouts — Pentucket’s Erin McNamara and Triton’s Jen Rock — who were two of the best point guards in the Cape Ann League over the past decade — have been stellar at collegiate level this year for their respective teams.
Rock, who was one of the best all-around during her Triton career, has been just as versatile running the show at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in her first two seasons. But there has been no slip-up from her freshman to sophomore season, where she currently is averaging 9.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.2 steals per game.
“Things are going really well, we’re 6-3, we’ve gotten all of our non-league games out of the way and going into the season we knew it was going to be a tough schedule when we were got it,” Rock said.
“I think our team has done really well given our non-conference schedule especially. We’ve played several top-25 teams — Williams, Amherst and Emmanuel — and I’m really proud of where we stand heading into our league play. I’m excited. I think we can be a top contender in the league.”
Lacking a true post presence, Rock said at 6-3, RPI thrives on its run-and-gun press the ball to accomplish a high-tempo game — a style perfectly suited for her abilities.
“I’ve always loved the trapping style and the high-intensity running. I was really excited for that this year,” said Rock, who was a three-sport star in basketball, soccer and lacrosse at Triton.
“I’ve tried to be working on my shot and shot selection and outside shot. That’s the big part of what I’ve been working on. I think it’s still a work in progress. You can always get better and there’s always stuff you need to improve on, but so far I’ve been happy with how the season has gone.”
The sophomore feels her team is poised to improve upon its semifinal conference tournament finish from a year ago after such a difficult opening to the season.
“I think it’s going to help us a lot going into the season,” Rock said. “We saw our schedule and saw how tough our opponents were. But our coach has always said he does that for a reason, to get us ready for our league play. We know that every game in the league is very competitive, so we have to come ready to play every game, and I think with the tough non-league schedule it’s going to make us even more prepared than games that wouldn’t especially motivate us.
“Our major goal was to win the conference the Liberty League and I think we could really be a contender for that.”
McNamara playing at national level
At Southern Maine, McNamara has led the Huskies back to prominence at the national level. where her team is ranked 16th nationally in the current D3hoops poll after a 9-0 start.
The junior point guard, who took Pentucket to the TD Banknorth Garden three times, took a small step back a year ago struggling with her confidence after a brilliant freshman year earned her league rookie of the year.
Having a resurgent season leading her team in minutes played and averaging 7.0 points and 3.1 assists per game, her coach Gary Fifield said his point guard has been a consistent performer on a balanced team in which six players average between seven and 14 points per game.
“She has great basketball I.Q.,” said Fifield, whose Southern Maine squad will play at Salem State on back-to-back nights Saturday and Sunday. “She just doesn’t make mistakes, and this year she’s playing with a little more confidence than last year.
“I think a lot of times if a kid does have a great freshman year as she did, they kind of have the sophomore jinx,” said the Southern Maine coach, whose teams have averaged nearly 26 wins per season in his 22 years on the job. “She thinks so much — I think when she missed a shot that she thought too much about it.
“(This season) she’s been a real steady influence for running the team as the point guard should run the team,” said Fifield. “She knows who to get the ball to, she controls the environment by limiting the turnovers, and you can count on her every night for her point contribution.”
McNamara herself said she does not feel like she is playing at the peak of her powers, but has felt much better about her level of play this season.
“I still don’t think I’m playing as well as I can, but I feel good out there, especially compared to last year where I had a little bit of an off-season,” said the former Sachem. “I’m not as much of a scoring threat as I used to be, but it’s fun to make good passes and know that one of your teammates is going to create something.”
McNamara said she feels like her shot and overall field goal percentage could be better, but after a lot of work in the offseason with old reliable — her father and Pentucket girls coach John McNamara — she felt much more comfortable.
Her performance and the chemistry the Huskies have had on the court has Southern Maine poised to do damage in the Little East conference as well as the NCAA tournament later this season.
“Coach says all the time we’re playing to get better for March,” said McNamara, who feels she has done a great job of slowing down her team and getting them into good sets on offense.
“Our goal is to make it as far into the NCAA tournament as we can. We have potential and I think if we can play as we have lately, we can make it a few rounds. Our goal is to make it pretty far in the NCAA tournament.”