EMU Women’s Basketball Off To Fast Start

By Mike Barber, Daily News-Record

Danielle Rittenhouse , EMU women's basketball
Danielle Rittenhouse formed a great ‘D&D’ 1-2 punch with Danielle Scott, scoring 16 points while Scott had 23 on Saturday 12/5 against Virginia Wesleyan.

Kevin Griffin lavishes praise on his senior point guard, giving Melissa Lewis a huge chunk of the credit for the Eastern Mennonite University women’s basketball team‘s 7-0 start. But it might have been the one game the Royals won without Lewis that is the most encouraging sign for EMU.

Lewis suffered a concussion in the Royals’ rout of John Jay College on Nov. 21 and had to sit out the team’s conference opener three days later at home against Lynchburg.

The Hornets pressured and hounded EMU’s guards, forcing 23 turnovers. But the Division III Royals won, 74-70. Six different players scored at least eight points.

“That was huge for us,” Griffin said Tuesday during practice at University Commons. “The ability to somehow find a way with the other kids to get it done without our leader on the floor, that says a lot about the other kids.”

Danielle Scott, EMU women's basketball
Center Danielle Scott notched a double double as she led EMU with 18 points and 10 rebounds on 11/30 against Randolph College.

Actually, though things are improving, The Missing Pieces could be Eastern Mennonite’s nickname this year. Lewis – in addition to the concussion – has battled illness and a dislocated right shoulder.

Junior guard Brittany Snyder, the team’s leading scorer last season, is in and out of practices, fatigued by a thyroid disorder that requires daily medication. Senior guard Ebony Dennis missed the first three games and is still not full speed after having surgery on both of her knees in the summer.

And the list goes on.

“That’s been really frustrating,” Snyder said Tuesday. “Everybody’s frustrated with the injuries we have. But that comes with every team. That’s not just us. Our bench has really stepped up. The bench has really added a lot points-wise, given us a lot of minutes.”

Ebony Dennis, EMU women's basketball
Playing in her first game of the season, Ebony Dennis showed her signature grit as she had five points and two offensive rebounds in the final 1:09 on 11/24 against Lynchburg.

The Royals generally have to go deeper into their bench than some college teams because of the up-tempo, running style Griffin has employed during his five years in Park View. But the injuries and illnesses have taken even that approach a step further.

Eight different players have started games for EMU so far, just seven contests into the season.

“Once we get through this, and we get everybody back, we’ll be that much better,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I’m trying to be optimistic about it.”

Still, the Royals’ 82-74 win at Averett on Saturday equaled the school’s all-time best start. Eastern Mennonite went 7-0 to open the 2003-04 season and finished 25-4, reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Division III tournament.

Last year, EMU jumped out to a 6-0 start before injuries helped derail the squad.

Brittany Snyder, EMU women's basketball
Brittany Snyder continued to work her way back in to game shape as she dumped in 15 points in just 13 minutes on 11/21 against Mary Baldwin.

This season, the Royals are just now getting healthy. Griffin said he had all of his players available to practice Tuesday and expects them all to be able to play Saturday at Shenandoah, when they’ll try to establish a new mark for the best start in school history.

Both the coach and players say they haven’t given much thought to their historic run of victories.

“Not at all,” Scott said. “It’s just something that’s happening because we’re all clicking well.”

And while Griffin jokes that some the Royals’ thunder has been stolen by the 7-0 start – and No. 24 ranking – of Harrisonburg’s Division I women’s team, James Madison, he’s not too focused on the record-setting start, either.

“I never thought about records. I still haven’t,” Griffin said. “I just figured, let’s get ready for Game 1. Then let’s get through the next one. That’s all I was trying to do. Can we hang in there until everyone gets healthy?”

Griffin is using two freshmen in his starting lineup: forward Sara Lamneck, a former Buffalo Gap High School star, and guard Danielle Rittenhouse, a talented scorer from Lancaster, Pa. The duo has started all seven games for the Royals. The 6-foot Lamneck averages 7.9 points per game and a team-high 7.7 rebounds per outing. Rittenhouse is second on the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game.

Danielle Scott, a 6-foot junior center, leads the Royals with 14.7 points per game and is second in rebounding at 6.4.

Snyder came off the bench to lead EMU in points for three straight games – wins over Meredith, John Jay and Lynchburg – but, with her condition sapping her energy, she’s been limited to just over 15 minutes per game.

Then, there’s Lewis. She leads EMU in assists (24) and minutes per game (26). She’s also been to the free-throw line a team-high 38 times, converting on 30 of her shots there.

“This whole thing starts with our quarterback,” Griffin said, as Lewis dribbled around a folding chair and banked in a layup during a drill. “Melissa has been dynamite on both ends of the floor for us.”