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January 9, 2009

Rookie Harrison developing into contributor for Hokies

By: Matt Kovatch

Shanel Harrison
Since last checking in with the women’s hoops team following a nine-point loss at Wisconsin on Dec. 4, the Hokies have played .500 ball by going 3-3 prior to the start of ACC play, a six-game stretch that was book-ended by wins over James Madison and Presbyterian. Those wins were notable for their own reasons – the 72-70 victory over JMU came in overtime and was Tech’s most clutch performance of the season, while the Hokies limited Presbyterian to a program-low 31 points – but also because each game saw an impressive effort out of freshman Shanel Harrison.

Harrison, a native of Olney, Md., broke out against the Dukes on Dec. 14 by scoring a then-personal-best 14 points in a season-high 27 minutes, including the game-tying free throws that sent the game into overtime.

“I’ve watched Shanel play for years and the thing that I like about her is that she wants the ball in her hands at the end of the game,” Tech head coach Beth Dunkenberger said. “I’ve seen her in that situation time and time again in AAU. When her team is down, she doesn’t run from it; she wants the ball. I felt pretty good about her going to the line.”

Harrison also grabbed 10 rebounds in that game to record her first collegiate double-double, and over that same six-game span, she has averaged 7.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest. She tallied nine points and eight boards in her first start in a 66-44 win over Lafayette on Dec. 29, and she poured in a new career high of 15 points in just 20 minutes of action against Presbyterian on Jan. 5. So what’s caused the sudden increase in production?

“She has come out of her shell,” Dunkenberger said. “After our loss at Wisconsin, I said that everything was wide open and that everyone was going to earn their playing time based on what they did for the next week. She responded with the best week of practice that she’s had since coming here. She was at the front of the line when we ran sprints versus being one of the stragglers coming in last. It was just a different level of energy over the week, and because of that, she was the first person off the bench.

“She’s been very aggressive and she’s so versatile. It’s tough to put a label on her because she is a guard/forward and we’ve seen her get down on the low block and get some confidence with her back to the basket. It’s good to see her become so well rounded.”

A rare loss

The Hokies played host to North Carolina A&T, Lafayette and Liberty on Dec. 29 and 30 in the Hokie Hardwood Classic at Cassell Coliseum. Though known by various names throughout the years, this year’s tournament was the 19th of its kind, and the Hokies claim the championship trophy nearly every time.

After a 22-point win over Lafayette in the opener, it looked like Tech would capture its 11th straight tournament title as it prepared to battle 4-7 Liberty, a team that hadn’t defeated Tech in 14 previous tries. The Flames thought otherwise, as tournament MVP Megan Frazee scored 20 points, including the game-winning jumper with 49 seconds remaining, to lift Liberty to a 45-43 triumph.

The loss not only snapped Tech’s 10-year title reign – it had won 21 straight games in the tournament dating back to 1997 – but it also snapped a 33-game home winning streak in the month of December.

A record low

The Hokies’ 64-31 win over Presbyterian was more than just an easy win; it was also a school record. The 31 points was the fewest Tech has ever allowed to an opponent, narrowly edging the 33 given up to Winston-Salem State on Dec. 28, 2006. The Blue Hose scored just eight points in the first half and needed six points over the final 4:07 of the period to do so. Amazingly, the 31 points scored by the Blue Hose was not the fewest they’ve scored this year – Wake Forest also limited them to 31 and East Carolina held them to 28.

Also of note

The 10th annual Hokie Hardwood Club dinner and auction is set to take place on January 24 at the German Club Manor in Blacksburg. For tickets or more information, please call the women’s basketball office at (540) 231-4998 … Sophomore transfer Nikki Davis made her Hokie debut in the South Padre Island Shootout in losses to IUPUI and Southern Methodist on Dec. 19 and 20. She then made her first start against Lafayette and has started each game since. The 5-foot-7 guard has averaged 6.8 points, two assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 22.2 minutes over her first five contests … Junior Lindsay Biggs began the season outside of the top 10 on Tech’s all-time 3-pointers made list, but has since shot all the way up to fourth. She had drained 88 treys following the Presbyterian game, 39 behind Jeni Garber’s third-place mark of 127.