By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Last year's Tonawanda girls basketball team did something no other team in program history was able to do: win a regular season ECIC IV title. Four key members are gone off that team, yet the Lady Warriors (6-2, 2-0 ECIC IV) seem to have picked up right where they left off and look to be the class of the league once again in 2013.
A big reason why is senior center Joanna McCarthy. For a big she isn't very imposing and she sort of blends in with the rest of her teammates during warm ups. That is, until, the game begins.
That's when McCarthy comes alive. She thrives during athletic competition, playing volleyball in the fall and softball in the spring after basketball season ends, but hoops is her true passion.
Through nine games McCarthy is averaging 14.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game and has notched seven double-doubles along the way. She lives in the paint, fighting through double teams and hitting the offensive boards with tenacity — her skills around the basket on both ends of the court make her one of the best bigs in the league.
Lady Warriors coach Jay Hall isn't surprised in the least at the numbers McCarthy is putting up — she averaged 9.6 points and 7.3 rebounds last season — and said where she really makes the difference is with the way she conducts herself, both on and off the court.
"She's a great kid. On the court, basketball is it," he said. "She takes it seriously and she helps getting the other kids together. She's a great leader, even if she's having a bad shooting day. It'll bother her but it won't get her so down that she stops shooting or doesn't rebound. She tries to pick others up and motivate others."
Being the player that fans and teammates look to to lead doesn't come without some challenges, though.
"It's a lot of pressure because a lot of people are relying on you, but it's just important to be there for your teammates," she said. "That's how I see it. I have to be there for the girls if they have any questions and I try to be a role model for them."
McCarthy is usually the focus of the opposing team's game plan, and that usually translates into playing through frustrating situations.
Against Hutch Tech on Jan. 3, the Engineers tried to be physical with McCarthy and force her to make tough shots. She took an elbow to the jaw early in the second quarter and just kept on playing.
She said it comes with the territory.
"(Getting hit) is hard but you have to just shake it off and move on to the next play," she said. "I treat every game like a brand new game — like there wasn't one before. I have to make my mark each game. I have to come out strong and make my mark."
Hall said it's work ethic that has been the biggest change in the team since he took over in 2005. The Lady Warriors won three games in his first three seasons and it's been a gradual culture change that finally hit it's apex last season.
McCarthy is the symbol of that work ethic and Tonawanda is hoping that will lead to another ECIC IV championship.
"We picked captains at the beginning and she was a unanimous choice," Hall said. "The kids look up to her and she's not afraid to come talk to me if there is a problem. She's certainly not afraid to talk to the kids. She's a perfect leader and she shows it on the court. She may not be the fastest or the biggest, but she gives everything she has on the court, and that's what you expect out of your captain."Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.