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Breakout year begins with defense
By Chaz Amidon

Sarah PartridgeSarah Partridge doesn’t credit her offensive blossoming this past season to the thousands of shots she took last summer, nor does she mention her newfound affinity for attacking the rim. Instead, she attributes it to something else — something that doesn’t show up in the box score: defense.

Partridge, who emerged as Calvin’s second-leading scorer on the women’s basketball team in 2007–2008, said that her numbers rose not because of her offensive mentality, but because of her efforts on the other end of the floor.

“Instead of thinking about how many points I was going to score, I was thinking about how I was going to shut my player down,” Partridge said. “My focus changed from worrying about points to worrying about playing better defense, which ended up helping my offense.”

Partridge, a junior, secured a role in the Knights’ starting backcourt this past season, averaging eight points per game. And though her contributions to coach John Ross’s fast-break offense were vital to the team’s 15-win season, her defensive prowess was what catapulted her into Calvin’s starting lineup.

“We felt Sarah was our best defender this past year,” Ross said. “We have been successful in the past because our defense has been really good, and the better defensive player you become, the more minutes you’re going to play.”

While the East Lansing, Mich., native averaged just over 10 minutes per game off the bench in 2006–2007, she doubled her average floor time this past season and welcomed the task of guarding opponents’ best players.

But Partridge hasn’t always been stamped as a lockdown defender. At East Lansing High School, where she led her team to three consecutive conference titles, Partridge gained notoriety as a prolific scorer — especially from beyond the arc, where even she admits she spent too much time.

“In high school, I normally would just jack up shots,” Partridge said. “But I wouldn’t really call myself a pure shooter anymore. Now I’m driving a lot. I’m a lot more aggressive at getting to the basket instead of just settling for jump shots or three-pointers.”

Partridge earned a spot on Calvin’s varsity squad her freshman year and initially had trouble finding her niche. She came off the bench, scoring 3.3 points per game while shooting just 26 percent from the floor. The Knights would flourish during the regular season, garnering a 23-4 record, though Partridge’s personal development was hampered by inexperience.

For the majority of her sophomore year, Partridge continued to see limited floor time until the NCAA III Tournament in March 2007. After two of Calvin’s key players, Kristi Brummel and Marcia Harris, were sidelined with season-ending ACL injuries in the MIAA championship game, Partridge was thrust into the mix to help fill the void.

“I think Sarah’s role changed when Kristi and Marcia tore their ACLs,” Ross said. “Sarah went from a role player who was playing 10–12 minutes a game to all of a sudden playing closer to 20 minutes a game. That’s where she changed a little bit. And she stepped up. I saw some good work ethic and some good leadership qualities at that point.”

Partridge’s confidence translated into a breakout season this year; she notched career bests in scoring and rebounding, averaging just over three rebounds a game. She recorded a career-high 17 points in a home loss to Albion and matched that point total in a road win at Alma later in the year.

But the climax of Partridge’s season came Feb. 13 in the Knights’ regular-season home finale against Adrian. Trailing the Bulldogs with less than three seconds left, Partridge caught an inbound pass from under Calvin’s hoop and nailed a 10-foot runner as time expired to give the Knights a scintillating last-second victory, 65-64.

“That was the first time I’ve ever done that,” Partridge said. “I was more surprised at first. When it went in I just stood there and didn’t realize what happened. I was open, I made the shot and it was an exciting win.”

As one of six returners next year, Partridge looks to spearhead Calvin’s leadership core and help bring the Knights back to the NCAA Tournament. With 13 players returning with varsity experience, Partridge believes it could be a monumental year for the success of the women’s basketball program.