There’s an old saw in college sports that goes something like this: "The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores."
It’s sometimes repeated by TV analysts who are trying to kill some dead air, and makes them sound like your uncle who tells the same tired jokes over and over.
The fact is, that notion has been dead since at least a freshman named Michael Jordan lifted North Carolina to the 1982 NCAA title with a little jumper near the baseline at the Superdome. And, truth be told, it was probably old long before that.
But you would think schools that play at the mid-major level, especially institutions where academics are so rigorous — like those in the Patriot League and Ivy League — would in fact be led most times by the upperclassmen of a program. And though that might be generally true, it’s not always the case. A good example is the Bucknell women’s team this year.
The Bison are enjoying their best season in years. They are tied with Army for first place in the Patriot League with a 12-1 record (18-6 overall), and they’ve won 13 of their last 15.
And they’ve got a trio of freshmen who have been instrumental in making it happen.
Kyi English, Kate Walker and Kaitlyn Slagus are all first-year players who have made a big impact.
Slagus, a 6-foot-2 post player, and English, a 5-5 point guard, were third and fourth on the team in scoring heading into Saturday’s win over Colgate, at 6.7 and 6.3 points per game, respectively. Slagus is also third on the squad in rebounding (3.4 per game) and first in free-throw percentage (83.7).
Both Slagus and English have shown that they have the clutch gene. In a home win over Lehigh on Jan. 13, Slagus helped the Bison complete a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback with a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. In overtime, it was English’s turn to bury a big trey, as her last-second triple lifted Bucknell to an 80-77 victory.
Walker has developed a little more slowly than her two teammates, but she’s really come on of late. Having cracked the starting lineup for the first time in a win over Boston University on Jan. 23, Walker has validated coach Aaron Roussell’s faith in her. In a 74-64 win over Holy Cross last weekend, Walker had career highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven). She scored 11 of her points in the third during a big run that put the Bison ahead to stay.
"A ton of it is just confidence," Walker said of her progression in the college game. "My teammates are more confident in me, I’m more confident in myself, and that’s showing."
And the coaching staff’s confidence in all three freshmen is telling. During one recent game, all three first-year players were on the floor during the final minute of a close game. (Granted, it helps when the other two are Claire DeBoer and Jacquie Klotz, the team’s top two players and the two most recent Patriot League Rookies of the Year).
"It’s good for us to have those kids have that experience," Roussell said. "It’s not every day that our big scorers are going to step up and play well."
Sports editor Todd Stanford covers college basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments to email@example.com. You can follow Stanford on Twitter @ToddRStanford.