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Rutgers seniors shine for respective teams in final season

It was so close that a singular winner could not be chosen.

Historical seasons over the past year by Jackie Bates and Betnijah Laney ultimately led to the pair of athletes sharing The Daily Targum’s Co-Female Athletes of the Year.

While Bates enters the final leg of her senior year patrolling centerfield for the Rutgers softball team as the Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, looms on Thursday, Laney’s career season has been in the books since March.

Over the span of the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s 2014-15 campaign, the Scarlet Knights compiled a 23-10 overall record with a 12-6 mark in their first year as a member of the Big Ten.

Laney was the biggest pillar for the Scarlet Knights’ success.

After seeing gradual improvement throughout each of her first three years, Laney broke out to leave a lasting legacy in her final season on the banks.

The 6-footer did it all for the Scarlet Knights, averaging a double-double in 32 games at 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.

She was second on the team in scoring behind junior wing Kahleah Copper’s 16.3 points per game, while leading the way for Rutgers on the glass despite being relatively undersized compared to most of the opposing players she met in the post.

Delving deeper than the averages, Laney posted 20 double-doubles on the year — 10th in the nation — and surpassed the 1,000-point mark, ending her four years in scarlet and white with 1,401 career points to rank 14th on the program’s all-time list.

When factoring the numbers into the time Laney spent out on the floor with a team-high 36.2 minutes per game for the Knights, her worth is obvious.

But no statistic speaks louder than her will to win.

When Rutgers needed her most, Laney was there. She battled her way through a nagging thumb injury midway through the season, refusing to come off the floor as she continued to grab boards, dive for balls and muscle her way to the rim to give her team a boost.

Her best performance came when a top-10 program entered Piscataway in then-No. 6 North Carolina. The Knights went on to drop the 96-93 double-overtime thriller to the Tar Heels, but not before Laney racked up an astounding 24 points and program-record 24 rebounds.

When all was said and done, the achievements began to pile up. Laney earned an Associated Press All-America Honorable Mention, was named to First Team All-Big Ten and found herself selected in the second round of the WNBA Draft with the 17th overall pick by the Chicago Sky.

The accolades speak for themselves, but the show that Bates has been able to put on for the Rutgers softball team has been equally impressive in its own way.

Entering the spring, Bates’ abilities were no secret. As a junior last year, the Lincroft, New Jersey, native posted a team-high .390 batting average with career-highs in virtually every single statistical category.

Bates managed to ascend beyond reasonable expectations in her senior season. Through 45 games, Bates had already matched her hit total from last season.

After totaling 18 home runs over the course of her first three years in Piscataway, Bates broke out for an unreal 21 homers in 2015, crushing the program’s season and all-time records set by former Knight Britney Lindley (2009-12) who had previously held both marks.

The at bats for Bates became a matter of whether or not opposing pitchers would give her anything to hit in the strike zone.

LIU-Brooklyn did not receive the memo.

At the RU Softball Complex on April 28, Bates smashed three home runs — a solo shot, two-run blast and a grand slam — as the Knights went on to rack up 18 runs and bury the Blackbirds in what was easily the Lincroft, New Jersey, native’s most impressive individual performance of the year.

As Rutgers (29-19, 11-12) winds down its season, its hopes of attaining an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament are dwindling.

But if the Knights have any faith of getting there, they can place it in Bates — just as the Rutgers women’s basketball team rode the leadership of Laney on the court into the second round of NCAAs to end the season.

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