Strunk impresses in loss to unbeaten Hawks

By Jake Tiger

Ahead of Rider women’s basketball Dec. 7 scrap with high-flying, 8-0 Saint Joseph’s, Head Coach Lynn Milligan knew she needed to reach deep into her toolbox to stop the Hawks.

En route to its perfect start, Saint Joseph’s had toppled Temple, Drexel, UPenn and Vanderbilt among other imposing foes, and through 10 minutes in Alumni Gym, it was more of the same.

“[There were] too many turnovers and some missed opportunities,” said Milligan. “When you have a team like Saint Joseph’s on your home floor, you can’t make mistakes because they’re going to take advantage.”

Having already committed six turnovers, the Broncs were down 22-9 at the end of the first quarter and in desperate need of an answer.

Enter sophomore forward Emily Strunk.

Milligan peered down her bench, and plucked Strunk from the row of reserves, as she had caught Milligan’s eye in the days prior.

“[Strunk] had two great days of practice, and I just felt like she was ready,” said Milligan. “She’s physical, she’s strong, and we needed that tonight. She stepped up in a big way.

When she checked in, Strunk was yet to score all season and had only totaled seven minutes of play. In 42 seconds against Saint Joseph’s, she snatched up a defensive rebound, knocked down a midrange jumper and supercharged Alumni Gym.

“When I first went in, I was a little nervous just because I haven’t gotten a lot of minutes this season, but once I got the flow, I was just ready to play,” said Strunk.

Strunk’s first bucket of the season sparked a 7-0 run by the Broncs, keeping them in the battle against the unbeaten Hawks.

“I always go in with an open mindset and just being ready whenever [Milligan] calls my number,” said Strunk. “I don’t really ever have expectations for playing time. I know that I’ve had a pretty good couple of practices recently, so I was kind of hoping that I got in there a couple of times, but I just appreciate her putting me in and believing in me.”

The Broncs were still down 34-23 at the half, but had clearly found their footing, showcasing stretches of elite defense. After allowing 22 points in the first 10 minutes, Rider limited the Hawks to 12 in the following quarter.

In an effort to repeat a stellar second period, Milligan opted for Strunk to begin third, replacing senior center Victoria Toomey, the usual starter.

Thirty-five seconds into the half, Strunk drained another jumper.

“Shooting is something I’ve worked on quite frequently, so I was pretty confident in shooting those shots,” said Strunk. “I just kind of look for the most open shot, and if it’s not me, then it’s my teammates. It just happened to be me a couple of times.”

Rider fought tooth and nail through the third quarter, eventually cutting the deficit to single-digits as they waded into the final frame.

Strunk sank a three in the fourth quarter and the Broncs were able to bring it within three, but their comeback effort fell short, failing to spoil Saint Joseph’s flawless season.

Strunk played 15 minutes in the 60-53 loss and was a +7 while on the court, amassing seven points on 3-of-5 shooting.

“We’ve been working on a lot of different things in practice, and obviously those things are working to our advantage,” said Strunk. “I’m thinking that as soon as we hit a [Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)] play, everything’s going to be clicking in the way that we want it to be.”

Before conference play begins, the Broncs will be offered one final test against a staunch Seton Hall Pirates fleet on Dec. 9. The game begins at 11 a.m. and will be streamed on FloHoops.

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