It took Jackie Rabender a couple weeks to get her basketball legs under her.
While the Penn State Wilkes-Barre women’s basketball team was getting ready for the 2015-16 season, Rabender had some of her own business to take care of. The Penn State women’s volleyball team had a date with the Pennsylvania State University Athletic Conference playoffs. Yes, Rabender was a key part to that team’s success.
Two months later, the 2014 Pittston Area graduate is a key contributor to the women’s basketball team’s success. According to coach Ron Strothers, it took a few weeks to get the rust off.
“It’s been going a lot better as of late,” Rabender said. “We’re playing like a team now. In the beginning I think we were all over the place. Now we’re working together as a team.”
The Mountain Lions are currently 4-1 in conference play and 11-2 overall — the team hosts Penn State Mont Alto on Saturday, Jan. 23. Rabender has appeared in 11 games this season and is averaging just over five points per contest. That’s a far cry from where Rabender was last year. However, that’s much of that has to do with a position and culture change at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.
Last season, Rabender was forced to play nearly every minute of every game because the lack of depth on the team. This year, the team features many more players and Rabender was moved to the small forward position away from the basket.
She said this year isn’t as tiring.
“That’s a lot of relief,” she said. “It’s a lot nicer to have players behind you and supporting you on the bench. We can rely on that.”
Strothers said the small forward is Rabender’s natural position. Last year, Rabender was forced to play inside.
“She seems to be picking it up a little bit more,” he said. “Her scoring is getting better. She’s always hustling and playing hard. That’s never a concern with her. She always plays great defense.”
In the 2014-15 season, Rabender played in 17 games and averaged just shy of 10 points per game. She had games of 19 points and 16 points and average more than eight rebounds per game.
Strothers said he needed someone under the basket last year and Rabender filled that role nicely.
“I think she’s doing a great job with it,” Strothers said. “She’s coming along at a great rate.”
Storied volleyball season
When Rabender was at Pittston Area, the Patriots’ volleyball team was still trying to find its way around the Wyoming Valley Conference. Rabender was the leader.
Now a member of Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s volleyball team, Rabender enjoyed one of her most successful seasons as a volleyball player. The Mountain Lions finished the season 9-8 overall before falling to Penn State Mont Alto in the first round of the PSUAC playoffs in late October.
“This season was exciting because we were able to get to the playoffs for the first time,” Rabender said. “That’s something I’m definitely proud of.”
An outside hitter for Penn State, Rabender finished the season by playing in 15 matches. She totaled 50 kills in 48 sets, while adding 12 assists.
“Playing at the college level made me a better player,” she said. “The competition was better. I was able to play at a higher level.”
Close to home
Rabender is currently studying rehabilitation and human services at the school in Lehman. Coming out of Pittston Area, Rabender was looking at two schools to continue her education. However, basketball was always on her mind.
She chose Penn State Wilkes-Barre to continue her playing career.
“I just wanted to play basketball,” she said.
Although Rabender lives on campus at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, she’s still close to home. That proximity to her hometown allows for her family to get to most games.
Rabender is the son of Caroline and Lawrence Rabender of Avoca.
“I love that my family can come see me play,” Rabender said. “They’ve always been a great support to me. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick