Delaware News

OAC Freshman of the Year

Piper earns recognition in two sports

By JOHN REIDENBAUGH
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When Tabatha Piper was attending Big Walnut High School, she was a force to be reckoned with on the volleyball and basketball courts.

She graduated in 2011 with four letters in each sport, having finished fifth on the all-time girls basketball scoring list (975 points) and first in career assists (3,041) in volleyball.

Piper has continued to set milestones while playing both sports for Otterbein University. This past school year, she made Ohio Athletic Conference history by becoming the first athlete to earn Freshman of the Year honors in two sports.

"Everybody's good in college," she said. "You have to bring your best game. I love the competitiveness. Competing with everyone else, you have to be the best if you want to play."

Taking over as the Cardinals' setter, Piper found college volleyball to be much faster at first before acclimating to the pace, eventually leading the conference in assists (1,094) and finishing third in hit percentage while being voted second-team all-OAC.

"The role she stepped into was huge," women's volleyball coach Monica McDonald said. "It's one of those things that you can't put your finger about why she's so good.

"She's really focused and really level-headed. She takes a very analytical approach to the game. She's got an understanding of the game far beyond her years of play."

Piper led the team to a 26-6 overall record, the best mark in school history, which included a 17-25, 25-21, 14-25, 26-24, 15-9 win over eventual national champion Wittenberg during the regular season and a second consecutive berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. The Cardinals lost to Hope College (Mich.) 25-21, 25-22, 25-16 in the opening round of the postseason.

After her volleyball season ended, it was less than two days before Piper joined her basketball teammates on the court.

"Especially being a dual-athlete in two completely different sports, I thought that she transitioned well into our season," women's basketball coach Connie Richardson said.

Piper started all but the first two games and averaged 7.6 points and 5.9 rebounds playing forward for a Cardinals squad that went 20-7 overall and finished third in the OAC at 13-5. It was the first time in eight seasons the team reached 20 wins.

"She didn't come close to where she's going to go," Richardson said.

"She's smart, she knows the game and she makes those around her better. She's on the brink of understanding how good she can be."

In her best game of the season, against John Carroll at home, Piper went 8-for-13 from the floor for 17 points and had 10 rebounds. She also scored 14 in Otterbein's 63-52 victory over visiting Mount Union, the Purple Raiders' only loss of the regular season.

"In the locker room, there was a lot of excitement," Piper said. "Mount Union is a great team. The competitive level was awesome. It was really fun."

Though her Freshman of the Year awards highlight individual play, Piper is quick to credit her teammates for what she's been able to accomplish.

"The best part about it was the girls I played with," she said.

"They were definitely welcoming. It made it that much easier. The communication between us was good."

Always one to reach the goals she's set for herself, meeting next year's could lead Piper to competing in an NCAA tournament in two sports. She wants the Cardinals to reach the postseason for the third consecutive season in volleyball and to lead the basketball team to its first tournament berth.

"She knows what she wants and she's got the capabilities to get us there," Richardson said.

"She's definitely still got room to grown," McDonald said, noting Piper's work during the offseason. "She's motivated. Even though she's had success, I don't worry about her becoming complacent."

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