Loyola University sophomore guard Stephanie Karcz has developed into one of the best women's basketball players in the Patriot League, and if you ask her to talk about it, she'll happily tell you all about her team.
Perhaps it's that team-first mentality that makes her so good.
With preseason All-Patriot League selection Bri Betz-White out for the season with a meniscus injury and several other key players having missed time, Karcz has become her team's unquestioned go-to player. But that doesn't mean she's become any less unselfish.
In the past seven games, Karcz has averaged 19.1 points, 15.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists, and is averaging 15.0 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists on the season. She recorded the first triple-double in program history with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against Colgate Jan. 21, and she has scored at least 14 points and grabbed at least seven rebounds in all but one of those outings.
More important to Karcz is that her team put together a three-game winning streak and has won three of its past four to improve to 6-15 overall, 4-6 in the Patriot League. No matter how many questions you ask the Red Bank, N.J., native about her accomplishments, she always steers the conversation toward the team.
When pressed about her recent hot streak, Karcz said: "Before the season, the coaches had a meeting and talked about where our team had been ranked in the league. We were near the bottom, and we talked about how we wanted to prove people wrong and play hard to show that we could compete with the best teams in the league. It's been hard with so many players out, but we have done a good job of playing with the mindset of proving everyone wrong."
Karcz desire to put the team first doesn't surprise Loyola head coach Joe Logan.
Listed at 5-foot-11, Karcz proved to be a reliable inside scorer and the team's top rebounder as a freshman, averaging 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds to earn Patriot League All-Rookie honors. Karcz also led the Greyhounds and ranked second in the conference in steals with 76. She was the only freshman named to the Patriot League All-Defensive Team.
Betz-White, the team's starting point guard, only played five games this season, and Alexis Gray, a shooting guard who fills in at the point, missed time with an ankle injury. So Logan turned to Karcz, one of only two players to play in all 21 games, to run the offense.
She assumed that role at Lafayette Jan. 14 and did a remarkable job, finishing with 23 points. Then, with Gray back in the lineup, Karcz recorded 16 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists as the Greyhounds snapped Bucknell's 25-game home conference winning streak Jan. 17.
Karcz thinks she might have played every position this season. Logan agreed and said she does it without complaint.
"Right now, everybody has to be ready to go and do what it takes," Logan said. "It's great to have Steph, our leading scorer and rebounder, being willing to do whatever we need her to do. When the others see her say, 'OK, if I need to play point guard I'll play point guard and do whatever I can to help the team,' they understand that they better be ready to dive for every loose ball, be willing to guard the bigger players or make that extra step needed to take a charge. Her unselfishness makes my job a lot easier."
While having Karcz running the offense is not Logan's ideal scenario, being forced to use her in that role opened his eyes to some things he could take advantage of offensively. That, along with other players taking her lead and assuming new or different roles for the benefit of the team, has Loyola playing its best basketball of the season.
"It has definitely helped all of us having to play different roles," Karcz said. "Being in the point guard role allowed me to see all the different options and cuts available when we run our plays, and everyone being able to interchange positions a lot has helped us all get a better grasp of things that are open to us and options we might not have seen before."
Karcz said that with all they've had to overcome, the Greyhounds are confident they can compete against anyone in the Patriot League -- even after having their three-game winning streak snapped at Army, 62-47, Jan. 27.
"We feel really good about how we are playing," Karcz said. "We went back and watched the Army game and as a team wrote down what we did well and what we need to improve on and went to practice and worked on those things. For us, it's kind of a game-by-game thing. The experience of so many players having to do a lot of different things for us hopefully will allow us to keep performing how we have been, and we also will keep working hard on the things we need to improve on."
While Karcz ranks among the conference leaders in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals, she remains focused on winning and not her numbers.
"I don't pay a lot of attention to the stats," she said. "Everyone on the bench was freaking out [when I had the triple-double], and I had no idea why. It was pretty cool to be the first for the women and second ever at Loyola to do that."
Logan said Karcz's success is a product of her character.
"She's such a hard worker," Logan said. "I've heard her called a throwback by some people because of how hard she works and all the little things she does for us. At the end of the day, she just wants to win and will do whatever it takes to help the team. That's what makes her special."
Photo Credit: Emma Gristina/Loyola Athletics