From washing laundry to handing out water during games, the women’s basketball manager is always close to the team. But after three seasons as the team’s right hand, senior guard Anna Savino is supporting the team in another way now.
When head coach Jennifer Rizzotti called Savino to sub in during the team’s season opener against James Madison last month, the first-year walk-on senior said she could hardly believe what she was hearing.
“I was so nervous,” Savino said. “She called my name and my whole face was white.”
The former team manager has started five contests so far this season and appeared in seven games, but at the start of the season she said she did not expect to be a major contributor. But with a lack of depth at the guard position, Rizzotti was searching for a spark plug to complement senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista in the backcourt, and Savino has provided just that.
“I put her in at James Madison because I was frustrated at some of our older guys and their effort and focus,” Rizzotti said. “She played great at James Madison. It allowed me to realize that she can perform under that pressure.”
Bautista and Savino have seen significant minutes on the court together in the team’s last three contests against Georgia Tech, NC State and Towson. Savino played 14 minutes against James Madison and, since riding the bench against Princeton, has seen a steady uptick in playing time.
“The whole reason I wanted to walk on wasn’t because I wanted to get playing time,” Savino said. “I wanted to be part of this team even more than I was as a manager.”
The walk-on was surprised when she got her first career start in New Rochelle, N.Y., close to where she grew up in the Bronx, when the Colonials took on Iona for their fourth game of the season. Savino has started all three games since and most recently saw a season-high 36 minutes on the court against NC State.
Rizzotti credited Savino’s hard work and effort in practice and in games for earning her role in the starting lineup over other scholarship players on the bench.
“The message to the team before we went up to Iona was that I’m going to play the guys that are competitive, that work hard and are listening to me,” Rizzotti said. “Anna was one of the top five in the category, so she’s going to start because of that.”
After the team’s blowout loss to Maryland last month, Rizzotti said she “benched” other players on the team who were not hustling as hard as Savino on the court.
Savino, who described herself as a defensive specialist, is averaging 21.7 minutes, 2.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game across seven contests. She recorded two steals against NC State and Towson while executing her disruptive style on defense, especially getting deflections and hustling to loose balls.
Her contributions off the ball have helped space the floor and open up shots for the team’s more potent scorers, too.
“All the three-pointers that I get, that Kelsi gets, it’s because she’s getting us open,” Bautista said. “And that’s one stat that is never on the sheet. If there was how many screens, you getting someone a shot, she’d be the leading screener on our team.”
Savino has also shown the ability to take care of the ball on offense. In 152 minutes of game action this season, Savino has only committed five turnovers. Her steadying presence next to Bautista stems from her familiarity with Rizzotti’s playbook – which Savino said she knows “like the back of my hand” – after watching it in action on the court the past three seasons and her ability to learn from errors, Rizzotti said.
“She makes a mistake, I correct it one time, she doesn’t do it again,” Rizzotti said. “That’s rare for a kid who hasn’t played competitive basketball other than club intramurals at GW for three years, but she’s watched the game.”
Bautista said Savino’s team-first mentality, hustle on the court and confidence to guard some of the top players in the country has earned her teammates’ trust.
“If she’s open, or even if someone is denying her, I’m still willing to throw her the ball because we all trust her,” Bautista said. “That’s how much trust she has gained by working hard in practice, and when she makes that open three, it just feels good.”
Savino and her teammates have developed close ties through her three years as manager that have helped to ease her transition from club basketball to the Division I level, she said.
“The transition has been really easy, actually, because the girls on the team are super supportive,” Savino said.
Sitting on the sidelines for three years has allowed Savino to study the game from the vantage point of a coach – a profession she aspires to pursue someday – and understand the program and Rizzotti’s vision for the team on the court, Rizzotti said.
Even though Savino does not have nearly the same Division I playing experience as Bautista and fellow-senior forward Kelsi Mahoney, the Colonials can learn from her dedication to the game and desire to support her teammates in any way possible, Bautista said.
“You don’t have to be the best scorer to play minutes,” Bautista said. “But you can do all the little things like Anna does and have the heart like Anna does in order to play.”