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A `Royal' homecoming for Sarah

POSTED February 18, 2013
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                                       A `Royal' homecoming for Sarah

            HARTFORD - She played more minutes than anybody else. She scored more points than anybody else. She forced University of Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti to sit up and take notice. And she won Player of the Game honors and nobody else did.

            You might say that Sarah Royals `homecoming’ was a huge success Sunday.

            The former Torrington High star, now a sophomore at the University of Albany, put on an equally efficient and rousing performance at the Hartford’s Chase Family arena, scoring 16 points in 34 minutes of action while hitting four three-pointers as the Great Danes sunk Rizzotti’s club, 69-55.

            The 16 points actually tied her with Hartford’s Amber Bepko, a sophomore out of Guilford in a battle of former of Connecticut high school stars.   

            And you could tell it meant something to Royals with family, friends and former coach Mike Fritch on hand to watch.

            “I’ve been looking forward to this game all year,” said Royals. “The last time we played (a 55-48 Albany win in OT) I didn’t do what I was capable of. “There were so many supporters here, so many people from my town here. It was nice to say thank-you by getting the win.”

            Royals only took six shots but five of them were from three-point land and four of them found the bottom of the net including a runner from just outside the three-point line to end the first half.

            It was all something that Rizzotti wasn’t prepared for.

            “We focused on Henry (Ebone), Lowrie (Lindsey) and Forster (Julie) and we did a good job,” said Rizzotti. “What happens? Royals makes 4-of-5 and she shoots 15 percent from three-point. She stepped up. That’s what role players do on championship teams.”

            In her second season, Royals is having what may be considered a break out year. She has started every game for the Great Danes who are in the midst of a superb season (21- 3 overall, 12-0 American East Conference).

            Royals plays about 25 minutes a game and has modest numbers – 4.3 ppg, 93 assists and 63 turnovers. Playing the point, she gets off about four shots a game. With Ebone (14.5, Megan Craig (10.7) and Lowrie (10.1) all in double figures, the role has been to distribute.

            Royals won’t light you up with numbers but the maturation process is in full gear.

            And for those who remember Royals pounding her way to the basket in high school and spending half of her life at the foul line as a result, there is a more tempered player here. The drives are down, the three-point still there.

            Just for the record, Royals was shooting 26 percent from the arc (4-for-15), a tad better than Rizzotti’s figure although the point was well made. Teams preparing for Albany haven’t had to focus on Royals. More attention may be in order.

            “I’m not looking to shoot threes all the time, but if I hit my first shot it helps a lot,” said Royals.

            Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson continues to be impressed by Royals.

            “(Sarah) was my first recruit, the first time I saw her play I wanted her,” said Coach Abe. “She plays her guts out, she hates to lose. She’s tough and obviously today she stepped up.”

            Division I college ball offers a different meaning to the term bruise than high school. Royals has stepped up to the difference in physical play, she is stronger and has grown into the role demanded of her.

            And as with so many high school athletes that role is different than in the high school days of 25-point games and four-point plays. Everybody is good here so you learn how to fit in. Royals has learned.

            “She’s stronger and obviously can’t can to the basket every time,” said Coach Abe. “She is more left hand, too. In high school, she was all right hand. “

            Royals takes a pounding in practice, both physically and mentally which helps during the games.

            “The assistant coaches get on here – you can’t do this, you can’t do that, blah, blah,” said coach Abe. It helps to have players like Ebone and Julie. And with Sarah, it’s pick you poison.”

            A year ago Royals came to the Chase Family arena not exactly pleased at where she was at. It was a competitor’s attitude, mixed with some freshman frustration. Coach Abe has been there before, she knows that is what competitors do, always looking to bump it up a notch.

            She looked at things a differently. “Sarah is where she should be as a freshman,” said coach Abe at the time.

            A year later, coach Abe sees even more maturation.

            “Sarah is growing into a great point guard and she can play the two-spot, too.” said coach Abe.

            Who could argue after Sunday. Not the fans, not the opponents. Not Jen Rizzotti. One year older, one year better. A high school star on her way to being a college star.

            A great day late in a great season. And Royals gives you the idea that it can only get better.  

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