THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Tandem raises bar for BC

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / March 3, 2011

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More than five years ago, Stefanie Murphy met the “other’’ tall high school girls’ basketball player in New England. Murphy, a native of Londonderry, N.H., joined her AAU teammates that day for a game in Foxborough.

Shooting hoops at the other end of the court was Carolyn Swords, a 6-foot-6-inch center from Sudbury.

She and Murphy were in their junior seasons.

“You could be playing with her one day,’’ a friend said to Murphy.

As Swords spotted her opponents, her coach pointed across the court at the 6-2 center.

“That’s Stefanie Murphy,’’ he said. “You guys might be teammates one day.’’

Murphy and Swords didn’t know each other then, but their size and talent attracted the attention of college recruiters all over the country, including Boston College.

A few weeks after that AAU game, Swords verbally committed to BC. A few months after that, Murphy followed with a verbal commitment to BC. Today they are the most prolific frontcourt tandem in the program’s history. They own the top two spots in career rebounds at BC and have combined for more than 3,000 points.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I would ever be here,’’ Murphy said. “I came to college thinking I would be the average player, get my time, and do what I’ve done for my whole life.

“Being in the state I’m in now with Carolyn is something that was unimaginable. It’s great to know that when we’re gone, we’ll be remembered as doing something really special at this school.’’

Murphy and Swords are coming to the end of their senior seasons, and the accumulation of honors and statistics reflects their impact on the program.

“It’s really an honor to have done so well,’’ Swords said. “I didn’t come in with the intention to break records or anything. I was excited to be joining a strong tradition and play with some really talented players. I’m excited we’ve been able to do some really great things together.’’

For all of the individual accolades, Murphy and Swords would love nothing more than to have an NCAA Tournament appearance attached to their résumé. The Eagles have not reached the NCAAs since 2006. They have produced winning records each of the last four seasons but have not done enough in the eyes of the selection committee. This week’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament will be BC’s final shot to earn an automatic bid.

The Eagles (18-11) will be the seventh seed as they take on No. 10 North Carolina State tonight in the first round at Greensboro, N.C. Winning the ACC tournament may be the last gasp, but it is one Murphy will take.

“Everyone has their ups and downs,’’ said Murphy. “I think we’ve had more ups than downs, and we tried our hardest. It’s been disappointing, but we go on and work harder than ever before. So whatever happens, happens.’’

Tall order Murphy and Swords have challenged ACC coaches to find ways to defend them. The task dates back to their rookie season when Murphy was the ACC Rookie of the Year and continued as Swords established herself as BC’s catalyst. This week, Swords was selected a first-team ACC honoree, while Murphy was a third-team selection.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who is in her ninth season with the Terrapins, described Murphy and Swords as “phenomenal.’’

“They’re extremely tough, and it makes it tough defensively with what they can do,’’ said Frese, “especially with Swords on the block and Murphy being able to face up and do what she does. They’re a truly special tandem and have had unbelievable careers.’’

Finding a way to utilize two players with similar skill sets wasn’t easy. When being recruited by then-coach Cathy Inglese, Murphy said, she wasn’t scared off by the Eagles pursuing another post player. Instead, she was encouraged. Once both players committed to BC, they began working together in their spare time to prepare for college.

“Usually, growing up I was always playing the 5 because I was always the biggest one out there,’’ Murphy said. “Meeting Carolyn kind of made me change my position a little bit, but we both worked hard. I think when you’re players like me and Carolyn, all you want to do is win and play with your team.’’

Murphy made the switch to forward and worked on increasing her speed and her outside shot. Murphy saw Swords as a dominant, quick post player who could control the paint. But they would have to work to not get in each other’s way.

“From the beginning, we would often be doing the same thing and our coaches would laugh and get a little frustrated that we wouldn’t talk to each other about what we were doing,’’ Swords said. “We had never played with someone quite the same size, and to have another force on the floor was fun. We learned who went where and how to cover each other.’’

One tough matchup But sometimes playing against each other during scrimmages was a chore.

“Going against her every day in practice still is not my favorite thing to do,’’ Murphy said. “We stand there at practice and hope to God that we’re on the same team that day so we can play together.

“She’s grown a lot. She’s become one of the best post players in the ACC and in the country. She’s worked her butt off all four years.’’

Swords is fourth all-time in field goal percentage in the NCAA at 68 percent and has played in more games (129) than any other BC women’s basketball player. She is 7 points shy of the No. 2 spot in school history and holds the record for blocked shots with 174.

With each season, former BC guard Amy LaCombe said, it was evident the two made each other better. LaCombe has been around the program for 15 years and this season watched plenty of games while calling play-by-play on the team’s website.

“It’s been really special to see two local kids stay in their backyard and have such success each and every year,’’ LaCombe said. “They complement each other so well. They have this unspoken chemistry. I don’t remember a time that we’ve had two bigs, that good on the same team. They’ve been so special.’’

They continued that growth through a coaching change as sophomores. BC coach Sylvia Crawley said she has enjoyed watching the progress of Murphy and Swords and their growth along with fellow senior guard Jaclyn Thoman.

“I can’t say enough about them,’’ Crawley said. “They’re a good group. We’ve been through a lot together and we’ve come a long way together. I’m proud of who they are outside of basketball as the people they have become and character that they have.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.