Veteran Chittenden ready for final year

Shenandoah University senior Holly Chittenden is eager to lead the Hornets' women's basketball team in her final season. Courtesy photo

WINCHESTER — As a four-year starter for Shenandoah University’s women’s basketball team, senior forward Holly Chittenden has just about been through it all.

She has witnessed two coaching changes and is playing for her third different head coach in four seasons. She’s been through a change in Shenandoah’s conference affiliation. She’s experienced the ups and downs of a program looking for its first winning season since 2009-10.

And for two of her first three seasons at Shenandoah, Chittenden served as a team captain tasked with helping guide her teammates through all of that.

Chittenden, who has played in and started all but one of SU’s games over the last three-plus seasons, returned as the team’s lone senior this year and has retained her spot as one of the Hornets’ captains for her final season. It’s a familiar position for Chittenden, and yet it’s different, just like each of her first three seasons at Shenandoah.

“I’ve been a captain on this team for, this is my third year, but every year my role has been very different,” Chittenden said following SU’s 75-73 home win over Hood College on Wednesday. “This year I think I’m finally realizing what I need to be as a leader. Coming in, I know that I need to be a solid, consistent offensive and defensive presence. I’m not going to be your 30-point scorer in one game and two-point scorer in another game. My goal this year is to be a well-rounded scorer.”

In order to do that, Chittenden said she’s tuned her game to be a little bit more “selfish” on the offensive end this season. Chittenden, a career 9.9-points-per-game scorer, said she tended to pass away shot opportunities in the past, but she’s developed more confidence in her ability to score in the paint this year.

Though it’s a small sample size, the 5-foot-10 Chittenden is averaging 12.3 points through Shenandoah’s first three games — all wins — while shooting 77.8 percent from the floor.

“I think Holly, statistically and stuff, didn’t have as good a year as she would’ve hoped last year, so I think there’s more on the line for her to prove,” said Hornets head coach Melissa Smeltzer-Kraft, who is in her first season as SU’s head coach after serving as an assistant under former coach C.K. Calhoun last season. “Everybody loves Holly, but I think she wants to be feared a little bit more.”

Chittenden said the pressure for her to perform offensively has actually been relaxed this season due to the variety of scoring options the Hornets have.

Though Shenandoah — which has been playing without junior guard and returning leading scorer Imani Heggins (violation of team policy) — features some youth and inexperience this year, those young players have delivered some valuable scoring early.

Freshman guard Kirstyn Arcata is tied with Chittenden for the team lead in scoring at 12.3 points per game, and three other freshmen — Morgan Kuhns, Kanesha Foster and Breya Wallace — are averaging over seven points per game so far.

That balanced output has lessened some of the responsibility for Chittenden on offense, but the senior’s role in SU’s program extends far beyond the number of points she puts up each and every game.

“She is everything that we need her to be on and off the floor as a leader, as a senior, as a friend, as a forward. She checks all boxes off,” Smeltzer-Kraft said. “And it’s all the intangible stuff that she does. We try to meet with her pretty frequently, almost weekly, but I find myself almost leaning on Holly just as I would for an assistant coach. It’s really, really nice. I like that and I feel it gives me peace of mind to do my job that Holly and I are always on the same page, and she’s on the same page with our coaching staff.”

Chittenden is currently 189 points shy of becoming the 17th woman in Shenandoah basketball history to reach 1,000 points her career. At her current scoring rate, Chittenden — who scored 21 points in Wednesday’s win — should pass that mark in mid-February. But Chittenden said that feat is the least of her concerns this winter.

“Honestly, I don’t look at it,” said Chittenden, who is also averaging 8 rebounds per game in her career. “I’m not a stats person. I haven’t been since day one. It’d be really cool, but it’s not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about the collective unit.

“If we win, if we have a great season and I have my first winning season here at Shenandoah, that would be more exciting to me than getting 1,000 points.”

Chittenden said despite Shenandoah’s recent fluctuation of coaches, the program has made great strides each season as the Hornets look to become more competitive in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

Smeltzer-Kraft, who has placed an increased emphasis on strong man-to-man defense, has led the Hornets to their first 3-0 start in recent memory, and Chittenden said she’s eager to see what direction the new coaching staff takes Shenandoah’s program in the future.

“I’m just excited,” Chittenden said. “It’s my senior year. I have nothing to lose. The team has nothing to lose. Our program has nothing to lose. We have a new coach, a new playing philosophy and I think a lot of times we are overlooked as a program when we play. I think we’re better than what we’re given credit for. I hope that this year we go out and we really prove ourselves, and I want to have fun doing it.”

<p id=’reporter_info’>Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or <a href=’mailto:bfauber@nvdaily.com’>bfauber@nvdaily.com</a></p>