Returning seniors enhance morale of Knights’ underclassmen
Ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25, there are a number of areas that make the Rutgers women’s basketball team a special contingent of players.
Apart from their talent for the game or their impressive athleticism, the Scarlet Knights possess one quality that every team desires: senior leadership.
It is one trait that cannot be measured or put into statistical form, but is important for teams intent on going far in March.
It is also one trait that the Knights possess an abundance of this season.
Rutgers currently has five members on the team with at least four years of experience in the program under head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
Last season, the Knights had no graduating players on the team. Players had to establish leadership roles game by game and one practice at a time.
This year, the upperclassmen have entrenched roles that go beyond their position on the court as leaders.
“It’s weird going from having no seniors last year to having five this year,” said senior center Christa Evans. “We’re just trying to take care of all the incoming freshmen and underclassmen because we have been in that spot and we know how we want to be treated, so we try and take that approach to make sure they learn everything they need to.”
Of the five seniors, wing Betnijah Laney, guard Briyona Canty and guard Syessence Davis are expected to start or make regular contributions this season.
But their roles on the team extend far beyond the court.
Stringer stated how this team, more than others she has coached in the past, possesses qualities of a family. She credited her seniors for developing the team’s chemistry to where it is currently.
“This really is a great family team,” Stringer said. “They enjoy each other, and when they say family, they mean that. They are always calling me and telling me how one player is picking on another like sisters would, and it’s obvious that they respect one another. And that’s the first sign you look for when you are talking about people getting along together on and off the court.”
The seniors are always vocal in practice, trying to help the underclassmen adjust to Stringer’s system and demands. They are the ones that others look to when they need advice on and off the court.
Sophomore guard Tyler Scaife, one of the Knights’ most promising underclassmen, stated how much motivation the seniors give her to work hard every day in practice.
“It’s really good having them because it gives us something to play for,” Scaife said. “Playing for them so they can finish out on a good note and seeing their strong leadership motivates us to play at a higher level.”
In their first season in the Big Ten, the Knights will need their leaders more than ever to adjust to the different playing styles they will be seeing for the first time.
While their new opponents will test Rutgers, the seniors know what they have to do in order to keep the entire team moving forward.
“We just have to continue to lead by example,” Laney said. “We have to make sure everyone is on the same page and be there to support everyone on the team, because this is our last year, so we want everything to go as smooth as possible.”
When Stringer is not with her players, it is the seniors who are responsible for keeping the rest of the team in line and focused on the task at hand.
In order to make the NCAA Tournament this season, the senior Knights will have to continue the development of the team’s chemistry in ways that Stringer cannot.
The intangibles this group of seniors possesses is something they hope to pass on to the underclassmen this season. What they will be able to accomplish through leading the younger players on Rutgers remains to be seen.
But their influence will provide the Knights a characteristic that other teams around the country will be desperate for come midseason.
“Since we grew up in this program with a bunch of upperclassmen, we got to learn from them,” Evans said. “Now, actually taking the leadership as our own and being able to play the way they taught us I think is huge. I feel that we’re going to do very well this season because I’m not concerned at all with our chemistry because we all get along great with each other.”
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