Rice women’s basketball has a core of young players ready to make another run at a Conference USA title. The Owls’ five freshmen are the foundation for the Owls’ future.
It’s going to be surreal watching Rice Women’s Basketball take the court in the fall without Erica Ogwumike. The Owls’ leader on and off the court saw her college career come to a premature end before becoming a WNBA draft selection this spring. Rice will be tasked with fielding a starting five without her in the lineup.
As impossible as Ogwumike will be to replace, it won’t be an unprecedented task. She missed two conference games this past spring with injuries. Rice won both games, defeating Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss at home, each by double digits. Haylee Swayze got the start in the first game in place of Ogwumike. Destiny Jackson started the second.
If the average fan lost track of who was subbing in and out from the bench in the middle of conference play, head coach Tina Langley was well aware.
Jackson was one of five freshmen on the Rice roster. She and Lauren Schwartz were the only two to start at least one game. Schwartz was one of three players to start every game, averaging 9.6 points per game, third best on the team. All five — including India Bellamy, Ashlee Austin and Katelyn Crosthwait — played in more than half of the Owls’ games. Simply put, the Rice freshman made their mark.
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Bellamy led the team with a 45.5 percent success rate from three (5 of 11) and made all five of her free throws she attempted. Austin averaged one rebound every 4.5 minutes on the court, second only to Ogwumike. Crosthwait came up huge with a career-best 11 points in the regular-season finale, helping Rice clinch the conference title with a win over Old Dominion.
“I think where I’m proud of them is that all five of them contributed significantly,” Langley said, “It’s amazing to have such incredible young people coming into our program.”
Building that depth and giving them experience en route to back-to-back conference championships was, in many ways, the perfect scenario. Langley can trust each of them to step into bigger roles next season without missing a beat. And that’s what makes the outlook of this team so bright despite the loss of Ogwumike. Rice women’s basketball has so many players ready and able to contribute now.
“If you looked at our starting lineup from last season, we looked a little strange positionally at times,” Langley admitted,
“But we put a great group out there that could do a lot of different things well.” That’s the recipe for another run at a conference title in the fall. And as young as the Owls’ are, they might not be slowing down any time soon.