GETTING THEIR SHOT: Penn State DuBois Women’s Basketball Program Has Become Safe Harbor for District 9 Players

Mike Kilroy

Mike Kilroy

Published February 19, 2024 11:00 am
GETTING THEIR SHOT: Penn State DuBois Women’s Basketball Program Has Become Safe Harbor for District 9 Players

DUBOIS, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Rebecca Martin carved out a solid career for herself at Northern Potter High School.

A four-year starting forward for the Panthers, Martin averaged 11.8 points and nine rebounds per game as a senior.

Ever since Martin picked up a basketball, her goal was to play in college. But when it became recruiting time, her phone was eerily silent.

(Pictured above, Rebecca Martin guards an opponent during a game for Penn State DuBois this season. Martin, of Northern Potter, is one of five players from District 9 on the Lions’ roster/photo courtesy of Penn State DuBois)

“I’ve played basketball all my life, ever since I could walk,” Martin said. It’s always been a big part of the life. It’s something that I love to do and I want t be able to inspire the younger generation and show what I can give to the team. It’s a love for me.”

And she didn’t want it to end so abruptly after high school.

Then Penn State DuBois women’s basketball coach Pat Lewis came calling.

“Penn State DuBois was the only college that reached out to me,” Martin said. “He watched my games and approached me. He was pretty much the only one.”

Martin jumped at the chance to continue her basketball career and she has rewarded Lewis’ faith in her this season as a freshman with the Lions, averaging 7.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in her new position as a guard. She has started all 19 games.

Martin is just the type of player Lewis covets. A District 9 star who falls through the recruiting cracks.

Lewis has five players from District 9 on his team.

Lewis has many ties to the district. He was a coach at Cameron County before helping start the women’s basketball program at Penn State DuBois 17 years ago.

“I said I’d do it on two conditions,” Lewis said. “One, I’m gonna bring in good kids and good students. That comes first. So winning and losing is not going to be my primary concern. Two, and I won’t bend on this, I want to recruit primarily District 9 players.

“I’ve coached for 30 years and I’ve had so many players who live in Cameron County, who live in Austin, who I thought, ‘This kid could play in college.’ And they have never gotten recruited. This is my 17th year. I’m creeping up on 70. It’s my 47th year of coaching and I’m tickled to death with the team we have of primarily District 9 players.”

Martin, for one, is thankful for Lewis and the chance he has given her.

At first, she admitted she wasn’t sure if she had the chops to play at the collegiate level, but she persevered through the growing pains. She is now one of the most reliable players on the floor for Penn State DuBois.

“I didn’t think I could rise to the challenge of playing in college at first,” Martin said. “I had some challenges and struggles. But it made me push myself out of my comfort zone, which I really think helped. Once I was able to get out there and play, do the things I love to do — it was an accomplishment.”

Martin’s former Northern Potter teammate Megan Hyde is a sophomore forward on the team; Francis Milliron of Clarion-Limestone is a sophomore guard; Hailey Theuret of Union is a freshman guard; and Natalie Bowser of Keystone is a freshman forward.

Except for Bowser, who had her own special reasons for opting to play at Penn State DuBois, the other four had few opportunities outside of the Lions.

“Most of us come from a small town,” Martin said. “We all have that in common. We can relate to a lot of things and it brings us closer together as a team. We’re able to connect on different levels. We’ve all had the same struggles.”

Milliron was a key cog for Penn State DuBois last season.

Her role has changed this year as a sophomore, but Lewis said she is playing better than ever.

Milliron is averaging 7.8 points and 4.1 assists per game as the main facilitator of the offense.

“I mean, this girl is insane,” Lewis said of Milliron. “She’s diving on the floor for balls. Her point totals have gone down, but her assists have gone up. She’s taken a different role because we weren’t nearly as strong last year inside. Bottom line, Francis’ game has developed.”

<p>And then there’s Bowser, who was getting recruited by many schools for both basketball and softball.</p>
<p>But Bowser wanted to find a school that would let her play both sports. There weren’t very many of those.</p>
<p>Penn State DuBois was one.</p>
<p>Bowser has been a beast for the Lions this season, putting up 15.8 points and 12.2 rebounds per night.</p>
<p>“I’m beyond grateful,” Bowser said of the opportunity to play both basketball and softball at Penn State DuBois. “I can do both sports that I truly love. I have a bunch of coaches who I admire here.”</p>
<p>Bowser said she was also happy to play with so many players who she played against in high school.</p>
<p>“It’s definitely an adjustment. It was an eye-opening experience,” Bowser said. “Most of them now are my closest friends. It’s amazing. You knew they were athletic when it came to sports in high school, but you get to be with them as they grow through college sports, too. It’s a really cool thing.”</p>
<p>Bowser said she also had to adjust on the court to the new level and the new physicality of the college game.</p>
<p>Bowser has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and she worked to hone the weaker parts of her skill set. That toil has paid off.</p>
<p>“My ability has grown 20 times more,” she said. “I can see the court much better than I used to. My knowledge of the game is not even comparable to what it was in high school.”</p>
<p>The biggest change Bowser said she made was not trying to do it all herself.</p>
<p>She has learned to rely on her teammates.</p>
<p>“I trust them and I know they can get the job done,” she said.</p>
<p>Bowser still has a hard time believing she is playing so well so early in her burgeoning college career. Penn State DuBois is a young team and Bowser said she feels they are on the cusp of some special things.</p>
<p>“It has been really satisfying,” she said. “I’m very blessed to be in the situation I’m in. It was kind of strange for me, though, being a freshman coming in. I didn’t know I could do half the things that I’ve done this season. I’m just extremely thankful for everything.”</p>
<p>So is Lewis.</p>
<p>He’s thankful he gives players in District 9 a chance that they may not have gotten otherwise.</p>
<p>“When these kids walk off the court, I’m so proud of them,” Lewis said. “I just can’t even tell you how proud I am. These kids would have never had a chance to play.”</p>
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