Midway through a five-on-five scrimmage in a recent practice, senior forward Ruth Sherrill yelled out the defensive assignments for her team while senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald initiated the offense for her group.
“Me and Fey are always on opposite teams whenever we go at it in scrimmages in practice,” Sherrill said. “I’m always trying to lead my team the best I can and just do what the coaches want me to do.”
Coach Tonya Cardoza added Sherrill to the starting lineup after a loss to Hampton University on Dec. 7. Cardoza questioned her team’s effort after the loss, with the exception of Sherrill, who finished with six points and 10 rebounds against Hampton.
“That Hampton game was a game where nothing was going right, it felt like the effort wasn’t there,” Cardoza said. “But [Sherrill] was one of the lone people that was actually trying, and I saw that it really bothered her that we lost that game. She was out there hustling and working really hard, and at that point I was trying different people in the starting lineup, so I was like, ‘Alright, let’s go with her.’”
The Owls have won 11 straight since the loss to Hampton, with Sherrill in the starting lineup in every game. The rest of the Owls always viewed Sherrill as a leader, but with her in the starting lineup, she has become more vocal.
Sherrill has made her mark on the court with her rebounding and hustle plays. She works on the glass and seems to add a battle scar after every game. Her latest is a scratch down her right cheek that she got grabbing one of her career-high 19 rebounds against Houston on Jan. 18.
“I’m glad I was able to grab all those boards because that was the only thing going for me that game,” Sherrill said. “I definitely lose my mentality sometimes, and coach pulled me in, and just told me to work on what is really working for me in the game and not worry about what wasn’t working.”
Cardoza had to change Sherrill’s mindset early in the season. Before Cardoza added Sherrill to the starting lineup, she noticed Sherrill was too focused on scoring and was very critical of herself. Once Sherrill realized the little details made the difference, she flourished in the starting lineup.
In her 11 games as a starter, Sherrill is averaging 7.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, and she has three double-doubles. In addition to her career 19 rebounds against Houston during the stretch, Sherrill also scored a career-high 13 points in a win against Villanova on Dec. 10.
“When you have a lineup where anyone can go for double digits scoring and any night, with players that are so versatile, you have to be able to do something else or you won’t get on the floor,” Sherrill said. “To get in the lineup you need to be a role player, players that [Cardoza] knows are gonna hustle, play defense and get key rebounds. Those are things that aren’t interchangeable. So those are the things I really harped on, capitalized on and things I’m really focused on.”
Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @_kevinschaeffer.