Two schools, two programs, one standout season

LYNDON CENTER, Vt. — For most freshmen, making the adjustment to college life can be somewhat difficult. Getting accustomed to a new lifestyle can be challenging especially for student-athletes, who constantly eat, sleep, compete and study at odd hours of the day.

Imagine having to deal with those academic and athletic challenges twice in one school year. For Lyndon freshman guard Ariel McConkey, this scenario became a reality that, in the end, paid some handsome dividends.

"I realized that I needed to work extra hard to get playing time at the college level because the players here are just as good as you are," she said. "In high school, most teams have a couple good players but in college everyone can play and you really need to earn your own spot on the team, especially as a freshman."

Since transferring to Lyndon from Central Maine Community College in January, McConkey has played an important role in the Hornets' success. The 5-foot-5 Fryeburg, Maine native played in all 17 games of the spring semester season, averaging nearly 24 minutes per game.

From the field, McConkey connected on 32 percent of her attempts (50-156) while shooting .244 (11-45) from beyond the three-point arc. In addition to hitting her free throw attempts at a .642 clip (61-95), she averaged 3.2 rebounds (54) per contest from the guard position and amassed 23 assists, 36 steals and one blocked shot.

In her short tenure with the Hornet women's basketball program, McConkey has scored a total of 172 points for a per-game average of 10.1.

"I've worked extra hard on defense since I've been here," she said. "I've never had as many steals as I'm getting now. In high school, I worked more on my offense, but now it's more important that I focus my efforts on defense."

McConkey's performance and contributions did not go unnoticed for long, especially in North Atlantic Conference play. She was named the Rookie of the Week in the NAC three times throughout the 2010-11 season.

For the period ending Sunday, Feb. 20, McConkey averaged 16 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.5 assists as Lyndon split its final two North Atlantic Conference games of the season.

She had 24 points; four rebounds, one assist, one block and two steals in the Hornets' 80-64 win over Green Mountain on Tuesday, Feb. 15 before tallying eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in Lyndon's 81-65 loss to Castleton on Saturday, Feb. 19.

Prior to her transfer, McConkey was a member of the highly-successful CMCC women's basketball program, who finished the season with an overall record 14-12 and a mark of 10-3 in the Yankee Small College Conference. The Mustangs ended their 2010-11 season with a 76-67 loss to Southern Maine Community College in the YSCC title game.

"CMCC's conference was different," she said. "The teams we play here are tougher, but the one thing that was similar was the fact they had a lot of good players there too. I had to work as hard as I did here to get a chance to play. We don't have the numbers that they do, but the level of competition here is definitely better."

Cracking into a veteran backcourt that included seniors Shauna Buck and Stephanie Barclay, as well as juniors Danielle LaFont and Naomi White, wasn't easy, but McConkey soon realized that hard work and consistency would be here way in.

"Coach (Vinnie) Maloney put in a lot of work to get me here so I wanted to do well for him," she said. "My mother always taught me 'be confident and know how good you are.' I felt it was important to play my role, average double figures and get a few steals here and there."

Despite her sudden success, a starting role was something that has eluded McConkey in her short tenure with the Hornets. However, it is something she is beginning to focus on as she prepares for her first full season in a Lyndon uniform in the 2011-12 school year.

"I think it's important that I score more," she said. "Sometimes I feel I don't shoot enough and other times I feel I don't shoot enough. I'm aiming to score in the high teens to 20 points and play defense like I did early in the season."

A 2010 graduate of Fryeburg Academy, McConkey is enrolled in the General Studies program at Lyndon. In addition to her basketball exploits, she was also the starting second baseman on the Raiders' 2008 and 2009 Class B State Championship teams and had the game-winning hit in the 2009 title game.