LEWISBURG — The Bucknell women’s basketball team doesn’t care who gets the credit. They don’t care who wins the individual accolades, who gets the shots and who gets the most praise.
When one makes a play, they all make a play. They celebrate and cheer more for each others success than their own. In a sport full of big egos and narcissists, the Bison have none of that. They’re a 13-women squad full of team-first individuals and that unselfish play is a major reason why they’re taking on Florida State in today’s NCAA Tournament opening round in Charlotte, N.C.
Bucknell (28-5) has plenty of talent as one of the Patriot League’s most dominant and accomplished teams in its history. The lineup features a combined seven all-league selections, three 1,000 point scorers and the winningest Patriot League senior class in history with 102 wins. But it’s been the closeness and team togetherness that has Bucknell back in the tournament for the second time in three years.
“I think that’s something that you hope happens as a coach. As a leader, your job is to make sure you have the right people a part of your organization. It’s not to manipulate relationships. It’s to have the right people and kind of set the atmosphere where that sort of thing can happen,” Bucknell coach Aaron Roussell said. “I think most of the time it does happen around here but I think this is truly a special group. You can say it helps to win to have that chemistry but I can go the other way. I think the chemistry is why we’re very successful.”
“It’s nice knowing that your teammates want what’s best for you off the court too,” senior Kate Walker said. “It just adds to the development and it’s really special.”
The Bison spend more time with each other than they do with their family. They live together, eat together and study together. They spend nearly 16 hours a day with each other and that has helped build a bond and chemistry that is shown on the court with unselfish play. Bucknell averages 16 assists on 25 made field goals, three players average in double-figures and five average more than five points per game. Bucknell didn’t have a player in the top 10 in scoring in the Patriot League, yet had the most efficient and fourth highest scoring offense.
“No one really cares who gets the credit and I think that’s what made us so successful this year,” senior forward Kaitlyn Slagus said. “We’re sharing the ball so much. One through five, whoever is out there can take the shot and we’re completely fine with that.That was really apparent this year.”
Slagus embodies that team-first spirit. The three-time All-Patriot League selection has taken a step back this year and that’s allowed Ellie Mack, who earned first-team Patriot League honors, to flourish. Slagus is taking nearly two shots less per game than last season, but is still drawing the same attention and double teams she always has.
Senior point guard Kyi English has taken 56 less shots this year and has increased her assists. The unselfish seniors are leading the charge in team-oriented basketball and have helped build a culture that is more about we than it is me.
“I think there’s a lot of people here that have taken some individual sacrifices to be apart of something like this. I think they’re legitimately happy for eachother,” Roussell said. “I don’t think there is jealousy or anything. I think when people feel like they’re getting snubbed, I feel like other people are more upset about them getting snubbed than that person is themselves. This cliche gets thrown around a lot, but this team truly is a family atmosphere.”
A summer trip to Europe, that included three games against international opponents, was more about a life experience and team building than it was getting better at basketball. It gave the team a chance to bond with each other and it has paid off.
Whether it be a freshmen picking a major or a senior getting ready to start a career, there is no class divide with Bucknell. They all genuinely care about one another and it shows on the bench with dramatic celebrations or in pre game warmups when they cheer when a teammate makes a shot.
Bucknell is heavy underdogs heading into today’s 4 p.m. game. Twelfth seeds are 22-78 all time against fifth seeds in the tournament and it would be a historic win for Bucknell and the Patriot League. Whatever happens to the Bison, win or lose, they’ll be doing it together and for one another.
“If there’s a clique, it’s all of us together,” sophomore forward Autumn Ceppi said. “We’re all really close from freshmen to seniors. …Every day we’re going really hard in practice and it’s super competitive but at the end of the day, we all have each others backs and have the best interest for each other and we want to do what we can for the team. That’s really apparent on the court.”