WORCESTER — When Holy Cross senior guard Avery LaBarbera learned there would be no fans allowed at the Hart Center for the Crusaders’ Patriot League home opener against Lehigh earlier this month, she was obviously disappointed, but, as usual, she did not allow that letdown to get her down.
LaBarbera scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, both career highs, to lead Holy Cross to a 64-53 win over the Mountain Hawks, the defending Patriot League champions.
“Sometimes,” LaBarbera said, “it takes a little bit of a punch in the face to really rise up, and we all did that.”
Holy Cross since has updated its attendance policy to include team complimentary pass list and season ticket-holders, and there was a small group of loyal fans at the Hart Center Wednesday night to watch the Crusaders defeat Lafayette, 63-57, for their third straight win.
LaBarbera, who leads HC in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (9.2 rpg) and ranks fourth in the PL in both categories, has helped the Crusaders (11-6, 5-1) climb toward the top of the league standings. She is on an incredible roll.
Against the Leopards, LaBarbera scored 16 points and had 14 rebounds, both game highs, for her eighth straight double-double. With 10 double-doubles on the year, she ranks ninth in the NCAA.
“It’s one thing to get a double-double every once in a while,” second-year Holy Cross coach Maureen Magarity said, “but the consistency of what she’s doing every night is amazing.”
The 5-foot-6 LaBarbera, who was the 2018-19 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, is probably best known for her scoring, 3-point shooting and, of course, floor leadership, but she has always been a strong rebounding guard, and for the fourth straight season, she leads HC in steals.
“Defensively,” Magarity said, “it seems like she’s everywhere.”
Collecting on the boards
This year, LaBarbera has taken her work around the rim to a new level. Her previous high rebounding average was 5.9 last season.
“Part of it is I just find a way to get the ball,” LaBarbera said, “and it’s about heart. Obviously I’m not super tall, but I just want the ball in my hands, whether that’s dribbling the ball up or rebounding. I’ve matured into a more dynamic player, more than just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”
LaBarbera also credits HC’s post players, seniors Oluchi Ezemma and Maddie Demski, and sophomore Janelle Allen, for their efforts boxing out.
“I’m reading the ball really well off the rim right now,” LaBarbera said, “but it definitely helps when Janelle and Luch and Maddie are in there boxing out, and I just kind of swoop in there and grab the ball.”
LaBarbera, a two-year captain. plays with a passion that rubs off on her teammates.
“She’s very positive,” Allen said. “She’s consistent, and that shaped my class a lot coming in (last year) and understanding what kind of program we’re trying to build.”
In addition to the difficulty that COVID has brought the last two years, LaBarbera and her classmates have dealt with, and risen above, other challenges. Magarity is their third coach — following Ann McInerney, who was interim coach for a season and a half, and longtime coach Bill Gibbons — and there has been change in the Holy Cross athletics department as well. Kit Hughes is HC’s third director of athletics since 2018.
Sticking together through it all
“I feel like the seniors have stuck together,” LaBarbera said. “We’ve had three coaches and a lot of ADs, but we’ve had each other, and that’s been the main constant throughout my four years here.”
LaBarbera and Magarity forged a strong relationship quickly, and Magarity watched LaBarbera take over as the team’s leader last season as a junior. HC had graduated five seniors, was playing for a new coach and navigating COVID during an abbreviated 2020-21 season.
“It was an emotional year last year for sure, and I thought she really handled it well,” Magarity said. “She was in a completely different role (as the leader), and she struggled a little with having to say tough things in the locker room. This year, she’s not afraid to speak up, and she is so well liked by everybody. I’m really proud of her. She’s a baller. She wants to win, and she is so driven.”
LaBarbera hit a leaning jumper in the lane at the buzzer to lift HC past the University of New Hampshire, Magarity’s former team, 50-49, in December.
“I’m proud of her,” Ezemma said. “She works very hard. She deserves what she’s been working so hard for.”
LaBarbera, Ezemma, Demski and junior Addisyn Cross are housemates and, LaBarbera said, there is always basketball on one of the TVs in their house.
LaBarbera is a political science major, but she is leaning toward a career that will keep her in sports. Last summer, LaBarbera, who grew up in Harrison, New York, did an internship in the Iona College athletics department and learned about the administrative side of athletics.
Plenty on tap in future
LaBarbera, who will enter the transfer portal at the end of HC’s season, will play a fifth year while pursuing her master’s degree, possibly in communications. Sports broadcasting is also something she is interested in, and with her knowledge, articulation and enthusiasm, she would be great at it. She has talked to HC about joining a men’s basketball or baseball game as a color analyst.
“With all the interviews I’ve done,” LaBarbera said, “I have a lot of practice.”
A longtime HC fan and former coach who watched Wednesday’s game thinks LaBarbera would make a terrific coach.
LaBarbera, who registered 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds this year, is a two-time All-Patriot League second-team selection, and she made the PL All-Defensive Team last season.
She helped HC to 18 wins as a freshman and 19 as a sophomore, but the Crusaders have not won a Patriot League championship since 2007.
She obviously wants to change that, and does seem like she is on a mission to go out on top.
“It’s a different feeling,” LaBarbera said. “Being a senior, you’re leaving it all out there, and obviously winning helps. The past three years have been a roller coaster, and we have won in the past three years, but it’s a different feeling. “We’re (near) the top of the standings, and when you’re winning and playing well and the seniors are playing well, it’s really fun to be part of.
“This is it,” LaBarbera said. “I have two more months left, and I’m going to make the most of it. I’m going to make the most of every day in the Hart Center.”
—Contact Jennifer Toland at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @tgsports.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Holy Cross guard Avery LaBarbera is soaring during her senior season