Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Loyola's Sheahin Perfects Art Of The Steal

Growing up in an athletic family, Loyola's junior guard Katie Sheahin had the requisite driveway basketball hoop.

The driveway court drew players from around the neighborhood, mostly friends of her two older brothers.

"I always played, but my brothers and their friends were older and bigger," said Sheahin. "A lot of my shots got swatted back into the yard."

If Sheahin wanted to be able to contribute in the driveway games, she had to find some other method besides than putting the ball in the basket.

She found defense.

From the driveway to the courts both in high school and, now, at Loyola, Sheahin has been a standout defender.

"I feel like that's how I grew up, never backing down against an opponent, never backing down on the defensive end," she said in a recent telephone interview.

Followers not only of Loyola basketball, but of play in the MAAC know Sheahin to be much more than a defensive specialist.

In the 2010-11 season the 5-foot-10 guard averaged 13.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. Throw in defense and she is arguably the conference's most-versatile player.

Throw in defense and she is one of the best. She averaged 3.5 steals per game last season, the second-best per-game average nationally.

And, she's already showing, as a junior, that last year's prodigious steal-per-game rate was anything but a fluke.

She had three swipes in a season-opening loss to Maryland, seven in a victory over Navy and, then, a career-high eight in a six-point defeat against Pittsburgh. That's an average of 6.0 per game, and while the NCAA doesn't begin tabulating statistical leaders until next week, Sheahin will surely be atop the steal list when the first national statistics are released.

It's just the continuation of her defensive work from a year ago when her 116 steals set Loyola's single-season record. Her defensive work last season captured the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award in voting by league coaches. She already has 184 career assists, prior to Tuesday's game against UMBC, only 66 away from the school's career record just three games into her junior season.

If Robin Hood was the "Prince of Thieves," then Sheahin is the "Princess" of that particular activity on a basketball court.

"I just pride myself on my defensive play," said Sheahin. "I get into the passing lanes pretty well. With me it's more about timing than it is athleticism."

"She has great anticipation skills, particularly as the game goes on and she starts to recognize what the opposing team is trying to do," said Loyola coach Joe Logan. When she sees the same play a couple of times she knows where a pass is going to go and is ready to make a move on it.

"The other thing is that she has particularly strong hands. Whether she's going after a rebound, tipping a pass or making a steal ... when she gets her hands on it she's going to get it.

"Having grown up playing against older guys really toughened her up. She is a great competitor. And, she takes pride in her game on the defensive end.

By now, it would seem opposing coaches would game-plan specifically for Sheahin. Her ability to create turnovers often turns games in Loyola' favor.

It would seem that, like a great defensive back in football, her presence should be accounted for and, often, avoided by opposing offenses.

"There are some good defensive players in our league, and as a coach you have to be aware of them," said Logan. "But nine out of 10 times Katie is going to be guarding the other team's best player, and teams want to get the ball to their best players, so you can't avoid her.

"Katie has all the tools. She has strength, sheer competitiveness and height. She blocks a lot of shots. Because of her, teams often have to loft passes a little higher to get it over her when they pass it inside and it enables our post players to get some steals.

"We were fortunate that she had that type of defensive mind-set when she arrived here. She played at a high school (Our Lady of Good Counsel in Brookeville, Md.), and for an AAU program where defense was stressed. So, she came in with that and we've built on it.

"The rest of our team sees that, sees how hard she plays on defense, and emulates it. We try to make someone make a different pass than they might want, try to make a tip, a deflection or a steal. The way Katie plays has become contagious within our team."

And the way she plays has put her near (last year) and likely at (this season) the top of the national leaders for steals.

"I couldn't do it without my teammates," said Sheahin, modestly. "I know if I go for a steal and don't get it my teammates are there to cover for me.

"It was nice to be recognized as our league's top defensive player last season. It was definitely a boost of confidence. But, to be honest, I usually don't have any idea about my statistics. We're just trying to win games."

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