WILLIAMSTOWN -- In big basketball games, coaches can count on senior leadership to help guide a young team along. Sometimes, the kids can do the job just fine.
The Williams College women's basketball team has no seniors on it, and is led by two veteran juniors. But that means head coach Pat Manning looks to freshmen and sophomores to help her team out. Sophomore MaryKate O'Brien and freshman Lauren McCall are two of the younger players.
"MaryKate has been consistent all year and steady. She hadn't been scoring the last few games, and [Friday] she came through with some moves to the basket," said Manning, after Williams' 69-55 win over Bowdoin on Friday night. "She kept her calm and kept her cool.
"Lauren is capable of exploding. The shots she took are shots she can make in every game. She just played fearlessly."
How fearlessly? Well the 6-foot-1 freshman from Natick was confident enough to take what New England basketball fans know is called the "Larry Bird Shot."
Bowdoin rallied from a 23-point first half deficit and were trailing by eight points with 3:05 to play in the game. McCall's 3-pointer from the right wing put the Ephs up by double figures and the visiting Polar Bears never got any closer. Just like No. 33 used to do in the old Boston Garden.
"I just took it," McCall said with a laugh. "I was feeling it. My teammates gave me a great pass. I wasn't thinking out there. I was just having fun."
McCall had just about a perfect night. She had a career-high 24 points, was 6 of 8 from behind the 3-point arc, and 9 for 11 in the game. She also pulled down eight rebounds.
Kellie Macdonald and Ellen Cook are the juniors who lead this Williams team. McCall said that without them, the Ephs would not be 13-3.
"They're amazing. They're very helpful out there," said McCall. "They always help us out to make sure we're ready and what our base [defense] is. They're always supportive of us. They're always there for us."
This is McCall's first year on the court for the Ephs, while for O'Brien; she was a reserve who averaged 1.5 points in 9.8 minutes of play. This year, she's the starting point guard.
O'Brien, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia, plays like a tough Philly point guard. She also understood the importance of a game where a loss could have put Williams at 0-3 in the conference.
"The team focused a lot this week. We didn't want another NESCAC loss," O'Brien said. "We were determined to win."
It's quite a change for O'Brien, who had to step in and play many more minutes due to hefty graduation losses.
O'Brien played 34 minutes against Bowdoin, and is averaging 14 minutes more than she did a year ago. A summer of preparation has helped her.
"I'm exponentially more confident this year," she said. "I worked hard over the summer. We just clicked from fall warm-ups."
There's still a lot of growing this Williams women's basketball team can do, and will have to do if it hopes to make postseason noise.
"We all have to step up," said O'Brien. "As a team, there's no one leader. We all bring something to the team. That's the best part about getting a [NESCAC] win under our belts. We're all confident in each other and in ourselves."
To reach Howard Herman:
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On Twitter: @howardherman.