In what is a transition season for the Owls, five rookies have received extensive playing time while freshman forward Leah Horton has been left on the outside looking in.
Horton, a 6-foot, 1-inch power forward, has been dismissed from the team for the remainder of the season due to her poor conditioning.
“I just felt like [Horton] had many opportunities to get herself on the court,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I don’t think she put everything into being on the court. It got to a point where we’re in January, and she’s just not in the shape I feel like she should be in.”
Having played in just three games this season prior to being informed she won’t be suiting up any longer, Horton made her Temple debut on Nov. 11 against Nebraska, in which she played six minutes and scored her first collegiate point on a free throw. Three days later, on Nov. 14 against Seton Hall, she played a career high 18 minutes while scoring three points and grabbing five rebounds. On Dec. 6 against Kent State, she played four minutes in what ultimately proved to be her last appearance of the season.
Horton’s chance to become a critical member of the team was there for the taking, as it was for the other five freshmen. However, Horton’s conditioning wasn’t up to the standard that Cardoza set for the team.
“[Cardoza] basically just told me that I need to get in shape, and that I need to focus on that if I want to play again,” Horton said.
Horton hails from Macungie, Pa., where she starred on Emmaus High School’s basketball team. As a junior and senior, she was the program’s focal point. She was named first team all-conference in both of those years, averaging 15 points per game during her final two seasons.
Shifting from Emmaus’ go-to player to a role player fighting for playing time at Temple proved to be a much more difficult task than Horton anticipated, she said.
“It’s college basketball. You don’t think you’re going to come in and start playing right away,” Horton said. “It was a big adjustment for me because in high school I was basically the main player. You just have to find your way.”
Temple (11-12, 4-4 Atlantic 10 Conference) is an inconsistent team packed with a bevy of young players who are yet to find their niche. While Horton is no longer welcome to practice or travel with the Owls, her fellow freshmen continue to learn and become more involved.
Forward Sally Kabengano, whose defense Cardoza praises, has averaged 30 minutes in 22 games, while making 19 starts. Guard/forward Erica Covile played in 16 games, averaging 18 minutes, before dislocating her knee. Guard Meghan Roxas has averaged 14 minutes in 21 games and has improved her jumper since the beginning of the season. Guard May Dayan has chipped in with an average of 14 minutes per game in 22 appearances, and freshman forward Jacquilyn Jackson has averaged 14 minutes per game, becoming a vital backup to redshirt-junior forward Natasha Thames in the process.
Horton was perhaps expected to fill the role currently held by Jackson. Of the six rookies that Cardoza recruited, only Horton and Jackson were built to go up against opposing power forwards in the paint. However, it took Jackson until Dec. 21 against Villanova to log more than five minutes in a game, playing 13 minutes that night in a loss to the Wildcats. On Jan. 7 against Western Michigan, Jackson played 18 minutes, the same amount Horton did on Nov. 14.
While Horton won’t be seen in an Owls uniform for the rest of this season, Cardoza said she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Horton returning to the team next fall.
“It all depends on how important it is to [Horton] to be on the court,” Cardoza said. “At this point, I just don’t feel like that’s where she is. Her heart and soul wasn’t into it. I just felt like [kicking her off the team] was the best scenario for us at the time.”
With her future with the team in her own hands, Horton said that she will “absolutely” be back.
“I’ve been working at my conditioning and working with our trainer almost every day,” Horton said. “I’m looking forward to getting back with the team and being able to contribute.”
Tyler Sablich can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TySablich.