At the start of games, junior guard Tanaya Atkinson finds herself in an unfamiliar position.
She started all 37 games as a freshman, all 35 games in the 2015-16 season and the first six games of this season, but now Atkinson comes off the bench later to contribute during Temple’s games.
The change in the starting lineup came after Atkinson suffered a concussion during Temple’s game against the University of Vermont on Dec. 4.
“It was a screen, somebody didn’t call out the screen and my head ran into her shoulder,” Atkinson said. “It just caught me off guard, and I just got a little dizzy, and then I was pulled out of the game.”
Atkinson missed two games in a 10-day period as she recovered. Coach Tonya Cardoza assigned senior forward Ruth Sherrill to the starting lineup to replace Atkinson. While Sherrill started and Atkinson worked to get back to the court, Temple (16-4, 6-1 The American) began its 12-game win streak, which ended after Sunday’s loss to South Florida.
“Her role is the same as if she was a starter,” Cardoza said of Atkinson. “She plays starter minutes and the thing is, usually you don’t lose your starting spot to an injury, but it just so happened that things were going well for us, but she accepted that. It’s almost a good thing because you have someone that has a lot of talent, who can do a lot of things, as your sixth man.”
Instead of viewing the change as a negative, Atkinson, who averages 28.8 minutes per game, has taken on the role and created advantages for both herself and her team.
She found that by sitting for the first few minutes of the game, she has an opportunity to note the mistakes her teammates make and avoid them when she gets into the game.
“I mean, I’m not saying I’m ecstatic to come off the bench, but I just feel as though it helps me at the same time from the coaching aspect when I’m hearing what they think is going on in the game,” Atkinson said. “So I just feel like me being a spark off the bench, scoring, rebounding. I think it’s really going to be cool.”
She found another way to make the best of her role as sixth woman in that she can do just about anything coming off the bench, an asset a lot of teams don’t have. Atkinson can score, rebound, steal and block.
Atkinson averages 11.8 points per game and has recorded 19 steals in the 18 games she’s played. Her most valuable asset to the Owls may be her rebounding ability. She has pulled in 149 rebounds, including 79 on the offensive glass. She sits atop the American Athletic Conference with 4.4 offensive rebounds per game.
“Especially if we’re in a slump, come off the bench, usually people are tired, stuff like that,” Atkinson said. “I come off the bench, that’s a whole lot of energy right there because I’m fresh off the bench, fresh legs and everything.”
Atkinson has pulled in 646 rebounds in her career, and Cardoza said she can reach 1,000 rebounds by the end of her senior year if she continues to post similar statistics. Currently, Atkinson averages 8.3 rebounds per game.
“Even though she’s a guard, she can play the post position, too,” senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald said. “She rebounds the heck out of the ball. She just goes and gets it. She’s just an awesome player. I think she’s going to give you her best effort every time she steps on the court.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.