When the four youngest members of the women’s basketball team walked into the Smith Center this August, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said they brought with them an energy and confidence that lifted the squad.
The Colonials welcomed guards Aurea Gingras and Piper Macke, forward Caranda Perea and center Ali Brigham to the program. Rizzotti said the newest additions were confident and energetic when they hit the ground running and can contribute in off-the-bench roles.
“This group is so full of energy,” Rizzotti said. “It’s really refreshing to not have a group of freshmen that come in the gym and are anxious or not confident – these guys just love it. They want to come in. They want to practice. They want to get better.”
Athletic department spokesperson Brian Sereno declined to facilitate interviews with freshmen student-athletes.
Gingras, an Alexandria, Virginia, native, has experience playing on and leading championship winning programs. She won back-to-back state championships at Paul VI Catholic High School on teams that were ranked No. 5 in the country by ESPN. In her sophomore season, Gingras ran the point.
She transferred to Edison High School in Alexandria, Virginia, for her final two years, tacking on another state championship her senior year. Rizzotti said Gingras is an option at the point position and has the ability to play fast and spread the scoring wealth.
“We’ve gone from the last two seasons having scoring point guards in Mei-lyn [Bautista] and Tori [Hyduke],” Rizzotti said. “Aurea’s about, ‘I got to get everybody else to score.’ She can really set the tone with her IQ, with her defense, with her passing ability in a way that we haven’t had in a while.”
Brigham joins the Colonials after cementing herself in basketball history at Franklin High School located in Massachusetts. With 1,692 points and 1,276 boards, Brigham became the highest all-time scorer in school history on the men’s or women’s side. She was named a Gatorade State Player of the Year finalist her senior season after averaging 22 points and 14 rebounds per game.
In her final season, she and her team won a Division I State Co-Championship. Rizzotti said Brigham, who stands at 6-foot-4, adds height and strength to the squad’s post rotation and brings confidence that will help her game down low.
“She’s a young freshman, and we thought she would need more time to physically keep up,” Rizzotti said. “And she’s been phenomenal. She’s really a high IQ player, and she understands the game. She asks the right questions. She can shoot it in three. Nobody can stop her around the basket. She’s a great passer, and she’s blocking everybody’s shot.”
Rizzotti likened Perea, the third freshman, to 2019-graduate forward Kelsi Mahoney, a versatile scorer who could muscle her way to the rim or hit a jumper from deep. She added that Perea is a scoring threat, taking looks on the outside or playing in with her back to the basket.
“As good as our post players were last year, when you think about the complement of Alex [Maund], Kayla [Mokwuah] and Mayowa [Taiwo], these guys have a chance to be even better than that,” Rizzotti said. “The four of them, when you add Mayowa and Neila [Luma] to that mix, they all can handle the ball. They can all shoot the ball. They can all score around the basket, and they all can rebound.”
Macke joined GW as a walk-on in September. She played her freshman season at Holy Cross District High School and finished her last three years at Highlands High School, both located in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. She and her teammates won four straight District Championships. In her final three seasons, Macke averaged 12.2 points, 4.5 assists and three steals per game.
Rizzotti said Macke brings energy and competitiveness to the program, which brightens up the team’s culture.
“It’s not easy to be a walk-on,” Rizzotti said. “She’s a fighter. She’s feisty. She’s competitive. She’s got great basketball instincts. She’s really brought a lot of energy and positivity to our practice as well.”
Rizzotti added that she gives the Class of 2024 “a lot of credit” for adjusting to not only online classes and a lack of interaction between classmates but also taking on the added physical and mental challenges of their first collegiate basketball season.
“There’s a really high level of, I want to say maturity, but also that they just have their act together,” Rizzotti said. “They knew it was going to be hard. They accepted that. They have embraced their teammates, and each other really well. And they have used basketball as their outlet.”
Graduate student guard Sydney Zambrotta said the freshman squad can take care of the ball, shoot from outside and dominate the paint.
“This is the first time in a long time that I’ve seen such a dynamic and versatile freshman class,” Zambrotta said.
Redshirt sophomore forward Mayowa Taiwo said the underclassmen have not hesitated to reach out to older teammates with questions. She added that the group was “eager” to learn and because the team lives together in District House, they can talk at any time.
“If they have a question, we can just hang out in the common room and talk through whatever needs to be talked through, and then on the court, they’re not afraid to ask questions,” Taiwo said.