By James Stumper Jr.
The Rutgers women’s basketball team held their annual media day Wednesday morning at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway. The term of the day was “excitement”, as it’s clear that the 2014 WNIT Champions are eager to get back out onto the court and start their inaugural Big Ten campaign.
Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer, entering her 20th season as head coach of the Scarlet Knights, is at the helm of an experienced team this season. Rutgers returns all five of their starters from last year, and has added two junior college transfers who can shoot the three-pointer, Natalie Parsons and Cynthia Hernandez.
The Scarlet Knights all expressed major excitement when they discussed Rutgers becoming a Big Ten team.
Senior Christa Evans is pumped to join the Big Ten, especially after competing in the Big East and the American Athletic Conference the last two seasons.
“It’s great,” she said “It’s another challenge – it’s gonna be competitive and we’re excited to get started.”
“I’m excited for the new competition,” said junior Kahleah Copper, RU’s leading scorer and the WNIT MVP, “I’m just excited to be in the Big Ten.”
There certainly will be plenty of new competition, as an entirely different slate of conference games awaits the Scarlet Knights. In addition to having to compete with conference powers such as Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska, the Knights also have quite a challenging non-conference schedule as well.
“I’m really excited for Tennessee and North Carolina to come here,” said sophomore Alex Alfano.
Those two games will likely be the most difficult games on the non-conference schedule, which also includes a trip to Baton Rouge for a date with the LSU Tigers.
The Scarlet Knights are clearly focused on making the NCAA Tournament this season, something they haven’t done since 2012, but have done 23 times in team history. Many thought they should have been in the NCAA Tournament last season, but the selection committee had other ideas, and the Scarlet Knights went on to win the Women’s NIT.
While an NIT title is nice, many Scarlet Knights felt they were robbed of an opportunity to compete in college basketball’s marquee event.
“It’s like a big old chip on our shoulder,” said junior Rachel Hollivay, “we’ve got something to prove.”
Senior Betnijah Laney echoed that sentiment.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation,” said Laney, “we take that, we look at it to see what we’ve accomplished. It’s given us something to build off of.”
Laney is confident heading into the year, adding “I think this season is going to be really special for us.”
As mentioned, the Scarlet Knights return all five starters from last season, but there are a few key additions, mainly two junior college transfers – Natalie Parsons and Cynthia Hernandez. The Knights struggled mightily shooting the three last year, doing so at just a 28% clip. In junior college, Parsons and Hernandez shot the three at 35.3% and 43.2% respectively.
“Having us being able to shoot that three-pointer,” said Parsons, “it really opens up everyone else as well.”
Parsons isn’t shying away from the chance to knock down a big shot in a Big Ten venue, either.
“I cannot wait,” she said, “those are the moments you dream of.”
The entire Rutgers team is excited to have added that layer of offense that they were missing last season, and they believe it could be a big help.
“I’m very excited,” said sophomore Tyler Scaife of the newcomers, “They’re going to open up the floor a lot.”
Excitement was the general feel from the Rutgers women’s basketball team at today’s media day, and why not? Coming off a WNIT title season and returning the entire starting lineup, the Knights are poised to make an impact during their first season in the Big Ten.
“This team is not going to disappoint you,” said C. Vivian Stringer, “we’re going to give you a show that you will not believe.”