The rookie class for women’s basketball adds height up and down the roster, allowing the squad to make up for some of its inexperience and lack of size in previous seasons.
Three of the four first-year players boast notable size for their position. At 6 feet 4 inches, freshman Kayla Mokwuah is the team’s first rostered center since 2013. Forward Mayowa Taiwo, who clocks in at 6 feet, has been practicing as a guard and guard Maddie Loder is 1 inch shorter – adding considerable height to the team’s backcourt.
Although a learning curve is to be expected during a player’s first year against college competition, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said the class will be “thrown into the fire” and needs to be ready at a moment’s notice to step up on the court for the Colonials.
“You can’t really predict what a freshman is going to do until they’re out there. They’re all gifted,” Rizzotti said. “They’re all capable of scoring five or 10 points a game. Whoever can do it on a regular basis, I’ll be happy about because we need it.”
The fourth freshman, 5-foot-6-inch guard Tori Hyduke, fills a more traditional point guard profile, but will sit out the season due to injury, Rizzotti said.
Given that multiple backcourt players graduated in the spring and an ACL injury dropped Hyduke – who was primed to be one of the team’s main ball handlers – over the summer, Rizzotti will be looking first to Loder to step up and take on an impactful role.
The Orono, Minn. native was a 1,000 point scorer and averaged 25.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game during her senior year at Orono High School.
Rizzotti has Loder shifting into the backup point guard position, even though she said she was told during the recruiting process she would be playing an off-ball role.
“It’s just a little bit of a mindset change,” Loder said. “When she calls on you, you have to be ready.”
Standing 5 inches taller than starting senior point guard Mei-Lyn Bautista and more comfortable matching up against players on the wing, Loder brings a distinct style to the position. Bautista said her differences allow the Colonials to play a more well-rounded game.
“She’s definitely going to be someone who contributes offensively and defensively which is what I’m excited about because I take pride in defense and so does coach Rizzotti,” Bautista said. “Her length is perfect when we’re guarding a bigger guard.”
Rizzotti will also be looking to fill an opening at the small forward position. She said she is looking for a solid rebounder to fill the void left by 2018-graduate guard Bri Cummings, who often was the most aggressive Colonial on the glass.
The third-year coach tabbed Taiwo – a forward who averaged 13.7 rebounds per game in her final year at Rockbridge Academy in Maryland – as someone she can count on to average five or more rebounds per game.
Despite being rostered as a forward, Taiwo has been practicing as a guard, she said, adding more height to the perimeter alongside Loder.
“This is my first year as a guard, so coach understands that there are still some things I need to work on,” Taiwo said. “But she really wants me to keep rebounding and work on defense.”
Fellow forward senior Kelsi Mahoney said Taiwo is “the hardest working player” on the roster.
At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Mokwuah is the tallest Colonial by 3 inches and the team’s first rostered center since Sara Mostafa in 2013. As a senior at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Mass., she averaged 19 rebounds per game.
“She is a great shot-blocker and will add that to our resume,” Rizzotti said. “When she’s in the game, she’ll be able to protect the rim better than anyone we had last year.”
Rizzotti said Mokwuah has an inside-ball, contact-focused style of play that increases flexibility for the team under the glass while also being a threat on the perimeter. Although her role will likely be limited this season, Rizzotti said it is rare to secure a player at Mokwuah’s height that can be as effective below the hoop as she is on the perimeter.
“I like to run to and get quick layups, and I think my specialty would be get the ball and dribble and shoot, as well as rebounding and put backs,” Mokwuah said.
Although Hyduke is sitting out this season, the guard said she will spend her year on the bench studying up on strategy and helping teammates by keeping a watchful eye over their play.
“I get to watch the practices and the games, I’ll see things that maybe they don’t realize what they’re doing wrong and I should be able to input anything that I can give them to help them do better,” Hyduke said.
Loder and Mokwuah said they have been expected to learn quickly, but the coaching staff and other players have been helping prepare the freshmen for college play so they can jump in the game when called upon.
“We don’t know how much we’re going to play so we just have to be prepared for anything,” Loder said. “Whether that’s five minutes or 25 minutes, we have to be ready to play our best basketball when called upon.”