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Royals making progress

POSTED January 08, 2012
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                                               Royals making progress

            WEST HARTFORD – Sarah Royals wasn’t happy. In fact the former Torrington High star was downright down to an extent. Such is the Division I world where satisfaction is often associated with a degree of complacency and is part of the perpetual on-going chase for perfection.

            Royals was back home this past week, well, as close to home as she is going to get, at the University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena, as a freshman member of the University of Albany Great Danes basketball team who was in town to take on Jen Rizzotti’s Hawks.

            Gone are the likes of the Holy Cross and St. Paul’s of the world replaced by the bigger, better and stronger likes of Niagra, Hartford and La Salle. Gone are the comforting smaller home town gyms and familiar crowds.

            Yes indeed and grab a chair to sit for this one, gone are the famous trademark orange sneakers that pumpkinized area gyms and stood out as much as Royals’ impressive game that produced 1,606 career points and countless whirlwind forays to the hoop.  A whole new world from top to bottom for Royals.

And just to clear one thing up right now, Royals is hardly wearing ho-hum treads. “They gave me purple ones,’ said Royals with a smile. Purple matching the Great Danes’ colors. They are colorful, they just don’t stand out in a crowd any more.

It is all an adjustment for Royals as with all athletes making the move from high school to Division I.  A quick look at Royals after the game gave a good indication of the difference as she stood there with a nice split in the middle of her forehead, a proud wound of college wars.

And Royals was clearly not happy with her play. The statistics would offer a surface explanation of why. In 23 minutes of action, there was one point, an 0-for-5 effort from the floor, a frosty 1-for-5 effort from the foul line, one assist and three turnovers.

What particularly stuck with Royals in the tight 40-37 Albany victory was not the numbers, but a turnover late in the game which she had her pocket picked.

“I think I can control the ball more than I am – losing the ball is not acceptable,” said Royals. “You need to be strong with the ball. And I couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn.”

So you could have walked out of the Chase arena thinking not such a good night and wondering about Royals’ progress. Royals had a good contingent of fans on hand including her parents and sisters, THS basketball coach Mike Fritch and his wife, Royals soccer coach at THS, Mario Longobucco, R. J. Poniatoski and several others.  She would have like to have done better in her `homecoming.’

Royals displeasure was understandable and will serve her well as she continues to make the transition from Red Raider great to Division I player.  But, it needs to be tempered as Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said before Royals came out of the locker room.

“ (Sarah) will say she is not where she wants to be, and all she remembers is her turnover and me yelling at her, but, she is a freshman and at the end she was aggressive and taking the ball to the hole” said coach Abe as she likes to be called because of the Great Wall length of her name. “She is right where she needs to be. Freshmen usually don’t get to play that much especially as point guards. It is very difficult and Sarah is humble. But, now we are in conference, she is getting better going to the rim and is right where she needs to be.”

Coach Abe wasn’t just blowing Great Dane smoke to the hometown press. Royals, in part taking advantage of the absence of starting guard Cassandra Callaway who was out with torn ligaments in her thumb, played 23 minutes on this night in a tight game against the defending American East Conference champions.

She was on the floor at the end. And the cold-shooting aside, there were flashes of the high school Royals.

She still is able to find routes to the hoop and get to  the foul line where she made a living in high school. Oh, the route isn’t always smooth (note the shot to the head), sometimes there is tractor trailer to get around or a Fredricka Krueger ready to lay the smack down on you and do a bit of mauling. Size, speed and demeanor of the opponents have clearly changed. Love Story it ain’t.

 But if there was a question whether Royals could effectively capitalize on this method to elevate her game, the answer is yes. But going to the hoop is a different danger here than in high school. In fact, the whole idea of having somebody close enough to you to figure out what kind of toothpaste they have been using, is a major adjustment.

“Making god decisions is the biggest thing. It was a lot easier in high school to make a good pass when defenders were five feet away from you instead of hitting you in the face. In the NVL I could pretty much do what I wanted.”

Royals was clearly excited to be playing in Hartford and playing against a school she had wanted to go to. She picked up confidence early in the game with a four minute stint in which she was flawless with the basketball.

The defense was good defense and that knack for getting to the rim was still clearly visible. On a night in an overall very ugly game, the numbers weren’t exactly the type that inspire you to write home. But, what you saw is the adjustment in progress.

Royals showed she can play at the level and has the potential to do it well. Coach Abe, who played for C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa, liked a lot of what she saw and has seen.

So what do we take out of Royals’ homecoming? Start with her. Not happy – a good sign. Division I is pushing her and she is pushing back. She will get better. Go back to Coach Abe, an intense drama on the sideline, but with the coach’s touch when the ball stops bouncing.

She says Royals is where she should be 15 games into her college career.  It all speaks of promise for the future.  And there wasn’t any hint of a smoke cloud in the arena.

In the end we kind of figured that Royals game wasn’t in the orange footwear. Purple fits her well. We look to the future with anticipation. So do Royals and the Great Danes. Stay tuned.  


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