Most college basketball players have to pay their dues on the bench and in practice so by the time they become juniors they’re ready for a starting role.
Sarah Sprecher’s case was just the opposite. She spent the first two seasons with John Carroll starting all but eight games.
But last offseason, the coaches told her their vision for the team had her leading the second unit because they needed more experience coming off the bench.
The former Avon standout didn’t blink.
“It really doesn’t matter,” said Sprecher, who has only started two of 25 games this year but has played in every one and averages 18.9 minutes.
“Coach told me at the beginning of the season that we were going to go with our two different units, and I think that’s the best thing for our team,” she said. “We have two solid units that work together. We contribute different things at different times and we can also mix them up. We’re not limited to five in and five out. We have a solid top group that’s pushed by the kids that have just come in and overall we’ve soared in our talent and expectations.”
The results speak for themselves: The Blue Streaks are 19-6 season and tops in the Ohio Athletic Conference at 15-3, giving them home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament that decides the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. All this after the team was picked sixth in the preseason poll.
John Carroll hosts Wilmington in the quarterfinals tonight at 7. The semifinals are set for Thursday at 7 p.m. with the championship Saturday at 3 p.m. The Blue Streaks will host both games so long as they advance.
“Everybody saw the big picture coming into this year,” John Carroll coach Kelly Morrone said. “We’re pretty deep, we have some talented young kids and knew it was going to be a balancing act of figuring out how to manage that talent and best utilize it. One of the reasons we’re successful is because of what we have coming off the bench. There’s really no lapse in play or skill level. Our second unit actually does better than the first unit in different ways.”
While the units are not set in stone, but for the most part Sprecher said the starters generally have more speed and a variety of scoring options, while her team brings size — especially at the guard position — to cause opposing teams fits.
Sprecher is a perfect fit at 5-foot-9 and with the quickness to guard a variety of players. Morrone called her the team’s defensive go-to, matching up with the opposition’s most important offensive player.
“It’s not just the best scorers that you need the ability to key in on,” Morrone said. “Sprecher’s size gives her the ability to guard multiple positions. We’ve really utilized her that way. She does a great job in that role.”
John Carroll is looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. The last time it reached the conference championship was 2011. Sprecher’s class has been building toward this year her entire career after going a combined 15-36 — 11-25 in the OAC — her first two years.
Even if it doesn’t win the automatic bid, John Carroll could still make the NCAA field. It’s ranked seventh in the latest NCAA regional rankings, which determine what teams receive at-large bids.
“We’ve gone through a lot of struggles in working our way towards becoming who we knew we could be,” Sprecher said. “It was a lot of hard work for two years and I think we’ve taken nothing for granted coming into this year.”