Mei-Lyn Bautista can’t stop talking.
Whether it’s at a practice or in a game, the junior point guard can often be seen, or rather heard, motivating her teammates, cheering them on and getting them fired up for play in the Smith Center.
Bautista’s tenacity on-court and attitude on the bench helped her earn a starting position last year as a sophomore.
Now, following the graduation of four of last season’s starters, all of Bautista’s teammates will count on her, as a captain, to be a commander during games both in words and in actions.
“My strength is my communication,” Bautista said. “I’m huge in talking. I never shut up in practice, whether it’s good or bad, someone can never shut me up.”
Even as a sophomore, Bautista was giving guidance on the court, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. With the team welcoming six new players, including three freshmen, Bautista has already earned the respect of her teammates, Rizzotti said.
“The freshmen really look up to her leadership,” she said. “She demands respect in both her work ethic and her attitude. I think she is one of the best guards in the league right now.”
Bautista’s work ethic was exemplified in the offseason. Over the summer, tendonitis in both achilles kept her from doing the same sprinting and running workouts as her teammates. Instead, she worked out in the pool and even did yoga to keep herself in shape.
Once she was allowed to run and back in D.C., Bautista said she logged late night hours in the Smith Center, her “sanctuary,” to sharpen her basketball skills.
“I was so sore all the time, I was tired, I just wanted to lay down, but I told myself, ‘I can’t fall off track,’ especially because my role as a leader I have to lead by example,” Bautista said. “So I’d come in late at night, by myself when nobody’s around, and get shots up, do some ball-handling drills.”
The Queens, N.Y. native played alongside 2017 graduates Hannah Schaible, Shannon Cranshaw, Caira Washington and graduate student Lexi Martins last season and learned how to motivate the team from the veterans, she said.
“When they left they said, ‘now it’s your turn,’” Bautista said. “Them having the confidence in me actually helped me tell myself, ‘hey, I can do it, too.’”
Following her freshman year where Bautista didn’t start a single game – she had a breakout season. Her first career start came against Florida Gulf Coast this month last year, and she started 24 games after that.
She averaged 28.8 minutes on the floor, finished fourth in the Atlantic 10 with a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio and dished out 3.3 assists per game in the season.
This season Rizzotti is shaking up the offensive strategy and pushing for the team to up the tempo on the court, Bautista said.
“All the players that we have this year, are fast, quick, strong,” she said. “This year we’ll look forward to more of a up and down kind of game rather than, ‘hey, slow down, get the ball in the post, work inside out.’”
For Bautista, that means attacking the rim and taking more efficient shots, Rizzotti said.
“If she takes care of the ball, takes the right shots and gets us organized in our offense then knocks down a few threes a game, I would be more than happy,” Rizzotti said.
Last season, Bautista averaged 5.6 points per game and shot at a 27.7 percent clip from beyond the arc for a total of 38 three-pointers in the season, good for second-highest made threes on the team. But Bautista also had the second-lowest field goal percentage on the team at 30.3 percent.
“I’m not used to scoring on a bigger girl or scoring on someone who’s really strong and can take me out with one hit,” Bautista said. “That’s what I’m going to look forward to doing this season and hopefully I get better at it.”
Despite her experience last year, Bautista said she still has a lot to learn, especially from seniors forward Kelli Prange and guards Brianna Cummings and Camila Tapias – who have multiple A-10 championships under their belt.
Bautista said she wants her teammates to feed off of her confidence this season and show that no matter what happens, she will be working as hard as she can.
“You could tell us to play a WNBA team, or the USA team, and I’m going to tell them we’re going to win,” she said. “I want them to see me as that person, no matter how hard a workout is, no matter how hard a sprint is, no matter the play to make the final shot in the game, I want them to see me as a someone who’s going to get it done.”