By ANDY WOLF
When Lauren Kotey and Nicolette DeVincentis each made their visit to St. Joseph’s College on a college basketball recruiting trip, both came away with a strong impression.
Pumas women’s basketball coach Steven Harold equally came away with pleasantries of meeting his current players.
“I don’t think the apple falls too far from the tree,” Harold said. “Our program is built around family and family involvement.”
Kotey and DeVincentis, both Liberty-Benton grads, are in their respective sophomore and freshman seasons for St. Joseph’s College, a Division II institution in Rensselaer, Indiana.
They each have been positively impactful as very different players.
Kotey is a 6-foot-3 post player while DeVincentis is a 5-foot-5 guard and 3-point specialist.
In their recruiting process, each were drawn to and sold on coach Harold as well as their current teammates.
It was a fitting transition upon the conclusion of two very successful high school careers.
As a freshman, Kotey played on a Liberty-Benton team that advanced to the Division III state semifinals before losing 58-41 to Anna.
Two other players from that team went on to play in college: Rachel Myers, a junior and starter for Bowling Green State University, and Cait Craft, who started 103 games at Ohio State and has graduated.
“When I started high school I knew I wanted to play college; I knew it was my dream,” Kotey said. “Playing with other players that went to play in college, it really motivated me to play at the next level.”
Three seasons later, Kotey’s senior year, the Eagles went undefeated in the regular season at 23-0 but fell to Ottawa-Glandorf in the district final.
While the heartbreak of a dream season coming to end is still there, DeVincentis knew it didn’t spoil her high school memories.
“We never made it to state; junior year we were undefeated and high shoulders expected to go to state and that didn’t happen,” DeVincentis said. “We’ve won many games and won our league three years in a row.”
In their respective senior seasons, each was named first-team all-Blanchard Valley Conference.
Kotey averaged 14.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.1 blocked shots per game — the latter an L-B record.
“It was getting in correct position, trying not to foul going straight up,” Kotey said. “I would try to get in front of the girl, play good defense.”
DeVincentis made her mark as a scorer and sharpshooter. She averaged 19.2 ppg (No.2 in the BVC) and made a league-best 87-percent of her free throws.
Arguably the most memorable game of her career came in a 100-30 win over Vanlue as she set school records for points in a game (51) and 3-pointers made (11).
Her last basket of the game accounted for her 1,000th career point as well — a milestone she didn’t know how close she was until after the fact.
“It’s just one of those games where you’re on,” DeVincentis said. “You have those games where you can’t hit a shot. They were just falling every time I was shooting and I felt confident in my shot. It felt really good afterwards.”
Since graduating, Kotey and DeVincentis are each making the necessary adaptations to the college lifestyle as a student-athlete.
Doing so requires a fine balance of time management between basketball and classes.
“It actually matters now with your career on the line,” Kotey said of classes being harder.
The speed of the college game is something every incoming freshman must adhere to.
The L-B duo have each seen their skill sets translate to steady court time.
Kotey averaged 4.0 ppg, 2.5 rebounds per game and had 27 blocks in 26 games in her freshman season.
She missed four games in December due to an emergency appendectomy.
“She was playing super. It took away her aggressiveness,” Harold said.
Harold, who has a career winning percentage of .672 (431-214), accepted the challenge of rebuilding a program that went 1-24 the year before he was hired.
The Pumas won six games and then 11 in his first two seasons before posting a 19-11 record last season.
They sit at now 6-8 overall, including a 62-46 loss to the University of Findlay Dec. 30.
That road trip served as a homecoming as DeVincentis noted living two minutes from their stay at the Drury Inn and Suites.
L-B faithful flooded the visitor’s section of Croy Gymnasium with red and blue to show their support, nearly matching the home turnout.
Kotey made her second career start, tallying six points, eight rebounds and a block.
DeVincentis played 16 minutes off the bench, recording four points and three rebounds.
Harold believes strongly in the potential of each to be pivotal assets for the team.
He said Kotey has developed the ability to put the ball on the floor and execute strong post moves.
Though her defensive prowess in high school hasn’t made itself known to the degree he’d prefer.
“If we can get her defense to catch up to her offensive ability, I think we’ve got a gem here,” Harold said.
He also heard from a few Division I coaches about Kotey that “you stole one from us”.
Kotey being 6-3 is essentially an automatic look from schools at every level.
But for DeVincentis, her look came for a proven and undeniable ability to score.
Harold envisions DeVincentis stepping into the sharpshooting role vacated by the school’s all-time 3-point leader and now assistant coach Courtney Kvachkoff (2012-16).
Since the school year began, Harold estimates DeVincentis has made between 15,000-20,000 shots in the gym.
“Once you get to the college level it’s a whole different game,” DeVincentis said. “You have to rise up to their level. You have to step up your play, competing with upperclassmen. It’s challenging but they definitely help you.”
The pair not only have their sights set on a bright basketball future but also their career paths upon graduation.
Their choice in majors reflected a similar desire to help people though in different ways. Kotey is studying exercise science and DeVincentis is an elementary education major.
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