BETHANY - With a roster that includes just two seniors and one junior, there is basically room for anyone to step up and be a leader on the Bethany women's basketball team.
While Coach Rebecca Upton gets plenty of leadership from her three veterans, it is freshman Lauren Simpson that is the spark plug that makes the Bison go.
Trailing by as many as six points early on, Simpson came off the bench to get Bethany rolling on both ends of the court, leading directly to a game-changing 16-0 run that helped propel the Bison to a 70-56 victory against Chatham University Wednesday night at Hummel Fieldhouse.
The victory snapped a six-game losing streak for Upton's squad, which improved to 4-10 overall and 3-4 in the President's Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, Coach Sandy Rectenwald's Cougars dropped to 1-12, 0-7 in conference play.
Looking for its first conference win of the season, Chatham led 12-6 and 14-9 early on before Bethany took charge at the 14:00 mark. A 16-0 Bison run made it a 25-14 lead just 6:02 later before the Cougars' Elizabeth Lewis hit a pair of charity tosses.
It was 30-16 when Jessica Manfredi drained a deep three-point goal for the visitors at 2:50, their first field goal in 11:56. Bethany eventually led 36-22 at the break, one of five times the hosts enjoyed their biggest lead of the night at 14.
But Chatham wasn't ready to go away just yet, using an 11-2 run midway through the second half to get to within five at 45-50. Unfortunately for the Cougars it was quickly followed by a 9-0 Bethany burst that once again made it a 14-point bulge at 54-40 with 6:37 to go.
The margin got no lower than eight the rest of the way.
"Our energy really shifts on the floor when Lauren Simpson gets out there," Upton admitted. "She is a total spark for us and everything just seems to change.
"Lauren works so unbelievably hard every day and the other girls just feed off of her. It is really contagious and she is a very special player."
Simpson finished with a game-high 16 points while senior Taylor Verrico added 14 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Gabrielle Naples finished with 13 and Wellsville High graduate Mikyla Tipton chipped in with 10. Sami Schott pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds in the win.
Rachel McClain scored 13 for Chatham.
"Hitting free throws late and keeping our composure was huge for us (Wednesday)," Upton added. "We have lost it a couple of times this season and blown big leads in the second half.
"Making free throws and burning clock is a very big deal for us.
"Changing defenses early on was also a plus. We were running zones, but the girls got a little lazy so we switched to man and pressed more and they did a good job with the adjustments."
Bethany hits the road for games at Washington & Jefferson and unbeaten Thomas More next before returning home to host Waynesburg on January 25 at 2 p.m.