Freshman class shines at Rutgers

Fordham women’s basketball head coach Stephanie Gaitley cited the depth of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as a big factor in the Scarlet Knights’ victory last week over the Rams.

Eight of the other nine teams the Knights faced this season likely had similar thoughts.

The reason for is a highly-touted freshman class, which ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN Hoopgurlz. The newfound depth allows Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer to substitute consistently throughout the game and keep her starters fresh.

The last time Stringer had the luxury of a highly ranked class, they failed to live up to expectations.

That group is this year’s senior class, and they are working hard to make sure this year’s class does not force history to repeat.

“We try to push them as far as we can, so when they’re out there, they feel comfortable,” said fifth-year senior guard Khadijah Rushdan. “For them to be able to be in there at crucial moments and really feel comfortable is extremely important.”

In practice Stringer runs the five freshmen against five upperclassmen, trying to give the younger players time against more experienced players.

“There probably won’t usually be five freshmen out there when it comes down to it in crucial situations, but if they can get through it together — when they have upperclassmen out there — it should be that much easier,” Rushdan said.

More important to Stringer than the production of the five freshmen is their work ethic and effort, of which she approves.

“They really try,” she said. “They work hard. I don’t have a problem with anybody — just give me your greatest effort. I love their effort. I love their enthusiasm.”

On more than one occasion this season, the Knights sported a lineup consisting of all five freshmen.

Younger, more inexperienced players might be uncomfortable without an upperclassmen safety net — but not this group, Stringer said.

“They’re not scared of anything. They may not know a play, [but] they’ll still go out there and try to rebound and score and play just as hard as they do,” Rushdan said. “That’s one thing that I really enjoy about them — that they don’t give up, and they play hard regardless.”

Although many expect greatness out of the freshmen, nobody expects perfection, especially Stringer.

“They’re going to make mistakes,” she said. “I might talk about turnovers, and when you push the ball as hard as they do, that’s going to happen.”

From a player standpoint, the biggest advantage of the freshman class is the other players can go all-out and not have to worry about conserving their energy for later in the game.

“In past years, we haven’t really had the depth,” Rushdan said. “We can really go 110 percent and know that the five that came in are just as good as the five that went out.”

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