January 27, 2012

Friday Feature - 'Diaper Dandies'

By Brandon Martin '13

WINCHESTER, Va. - Freshman. A term coined to define newcomers, first-timers, rookies or the fan favorite, "fresh meat".

Freshmen, or more politically correct, first-years, are at the bottom of the food chain on intercollegiate athletics teams. They eat last at team meals, sit 'doubled-up' on the travel bus in a team shirt that is two sizes too big and wear a jersey number that was definitely not their first choice. 

Yes, freshmen get handed 'the short end of the stick', but that is part of the tradition of joining a program. Freshmen are inexperienced individuals and need to be educated in the ways of the program.

However, there are exceptions to this rule.

Called 'Diaper Dandies' by esteemed college hoops broadcaster Dick Vitale, these freshmen have conquered the transition from being stars in their high school programs to starting over at the bottom of the college food chain.

Shenandoah University was fortunate in 2011 to have three student-athletes: James Bowens (men's basketball), Dorothy Earner (cross country/track) and Samantha Sisson (women's lacrosse) make a recognizable impact in their programs.

Bowens, a 6'2'' guard from Sherando High School in Stephens City, is one of just two players to start every game this season for the Hornets. Bowens is currently third on the team in points per game (9.3) and first in free throw percentage (.805) while playing just over 27 minutes a game.

In mid-December, he was named as the USA South Conference Rookie of the Week after scoring a season-high 18 points against future ODAC rival Roanoke College.

An extremely athletic player, Bowens has also dominated the TV-3 Winchester highlight reels and twice been a nominee for the station's '3Play of the Week'.

"It (my playing time) took me by surprise," Bowens said. "When I was recruited I thought I was going to be a benchwarmer."

Bowens uses his great athleticism both offensively and defensively. Also considered as a "smart guy" on the team (over a 3.0 GPA in the fall semester), Bowens has accepted his role and contributed to the team's success this season.

"This environment, this setting, in high school I wasn't able to take it quite as serious as I do now," Bowens said. "I felt like once I had the passion for it, I would put the work in."

Earner, a 5'4'' cross country/track runner from Trinity High School in McLean, burst on the scene this fall with the cross country team.

In her first season with the regionally ranked harriers, she posted two second-place finishes and a top 10 showing at the USA South Championship.

Just prior to that meet, Earner was named as the USA South Conference Rookie of the Year.

"I was shocked (about the award)," Earner said. "I wasn't expecting it at all because I really didn't fully dedicate myself to it. I never really saw myself as a cross country runner, but it really motivates me to do all my summer workouts and to be mentally tough."

Earner did not start distance running until her senior year of high school but she had been involved in various other sports such as basketball, volleyball and soccer. Her love for soccer was so strong that is originally came to SU to play that sport and did not pick up cross country until this fall.

Encouragement from both her teammates and coach pushed her to becoming a successful distance runner at Shenandoah. "Coach (Andy) Marrocco puts together a good program," Earner said. "I know if I do what he tells me to do, I'll be successful. I really want to do well."

With the team's top runner, Amy Smith, graduating this spring, Earner plans on taking more of a leadership role next fall to help other newcomers reach her potential.

Sisson, from the Finger Lakes region of New York, had the best season of all freshmen in 2011 at SU.

The Penn Yan, N.Y. native started all 17 games, led the team in points (73), goals (55), and was second in assists (18). She earned several honors including first team All-USA South, USA South All-Tournament, USA South Rookie of the Year and USA College Lacrosse Rookie All-America.

Her 73 points is the second-best lacrosse season ever at Shenandoah and was a big reason why the Hornets set a program record with 12 overall victories and had an 11-game winning streak in the middle of the season.

Nicknamed 'Rookie', Sisson played like seasoned veteran in 2011. She had seven goals in her first collegiate contest, against Division II Shepherd, and scored at least one point in all 17 games.

"Coming in as a freshman you don't really know your place," Sisson said. "But if you can push yourself to get to [that] higher level and be able to show it, you should be successful."

Due to how close the team came to earning its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, Sisson plans on taking a bigger leadership role this spring to help her team maintain the high level of performance last year.

These three freshmen, by performing at such a high level, have broken down the notion that first-year player can't dominate. If they continue to improve at the same rate as in their initial seasons, the sky is the limit for these 'Diaper Dandies'.