CANTON A connection with the South Jefferson girls basketball program is paying dividends for St. Lawrence Universitys womens squad.
The Saints, who entered this week with an 11-game win streak, feature three former Spartans on their 14-player roster, led by team captain Cassie St. Hilaire, a junior guard.
Also on SLUs roster is sophomore forward Madeline Wetterhahn, who is currently injured, and freshman point guard Amanda Roberts.
Theyve got a winning mentality and they take accountability and responsibility, Saints coach Dan Roiger said of the South Jefferson alums. If they dont win, they are thinking about what they need to do to get better. They want to get better and they dont like losing.
Both programs have enjoyed great success in the last decade.
SLU was in the NCAA Division III national championship game in 2002 and has been in the NCAA Tournament nine times in the last 14 years.
South Jefferson won state Class B titles in 2004 and 2006 and has been to the final four five times. The Spartans have won nine of the last 11 Section 3 titles and were in the state championship game last year.
Having the South Jefferson connection right now, thats great for us, Roiger said. Those kids are winning all the time in high school and they win a lot because theyve worked on their games for years down at that school. Coach (Pat) Bassett is a very disciplined coach. He expects his players to do it right, do it when it needs to be done and to the best of their ability. We are very similar. He gets his kids to play hard, and at our level you have to play hard all the time. He does a great job down there and we love the connection we have to that school. We hope to continue that in the future.
St. Hilaire followed former South Jefferson player Lauren Sischo to Canton.
She led the way and I followed and then Maddy and Amanda, St. Hilaire said. Its really cool to have Amanda, especially as our point guard. It feels like old times. We can really connect on the floor and off the court as well.
St. Hilaire does not offer flashy statistics. She is fourth on the team in scoring at 7.6 points-per game and she averages 4.1 rebounds. But her value is measured in other ways by Roiger.
Cassie is a pillar of our program, Roiger said. Shes done a great job of being just rock-solid. Shes one of our better defenders. We can put her on the best players. Shes also very flexible. She can guard post (players) and guard guards. Shes a girl that, depending on matchups, we can really fit our defense around for the other team. She does all the little things right. You can tell shes got a great background and understands the game. She does all the dirty work that coaches see and fans often dont and doesnt often show up in the box scores. We always know what were going to get from Cassie.
The Saints were 21-5 last year and went 16-0 in the Liberty League, but missed the NCAA Tournament after being upset by Vassar in the championship game of the conference tournament.
But SLU graduated four starters and got off to a slow start this season, losing three of its first four games, including an embarrassing 71-49 loss to SUNY Plattsburgh.
We played some tough teams and we knew that would be pretty tough for us, St. Hilaire said. Looking back on it, we learned a lot. Even Plattsburgh, thats a game we should have won. That loss helped us grow as a team and learn some things for the rest of the season.
Said Roiger, The Plattsburgh game was a turning point for us because it taught us what we needed to do. I dont think wed be as good as we are if that game didnt happen. They didnt like it. They were embarrassed by their play. But they responded to it really well and weve been on a roll since then.
Players like St. Hilaire, who come from a winning tradition in high school, are valuable early in a season when a young team is struggling.
If you had a really successful high school career, if you come to a college and it wasnt like that, youd be kind of disappointed, St. Hilaire said. You have that mindset of winning. We want to go as far as we can, and thats what were used to.