The world of college athletics is a fickle business. Athletes are never guaranteed full collegiate careers and the number of those athletes who reach their senior seasons are becoming increasingly fewer. The two seniors from the Slippery Rock women’s basketball team are examples of seniors in a position to thrive but the way the two reached this point could not be more different.
Senior forward Morgan Henderson came to The Rock as a freshman in 2015-2016 and played mainly off the bench, but appeared in every game, to contribute across the stat sheet. Senior guard Ciara Patterson took a more winding path to reach The Rock. Patterson originally committed to Wright State, in Fairborn, Ohio, and spent her freshman season at the Division I school.
Henderson, a three-year letterwoman in basketball and volleyball at Seton Le Salle high school, has played in every game for the Green and White in her first three seasons and became a starter during her sophomore season. The early childhood/special education major has improved upon her stats every season in her career, putting up 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while leading the team in field goal percentage at 48.8%.
Slowly climbing the leaderboards in career offensive rebounds and blocks, Henderson still finds it hard to believe that she is living out a childhood dream.
“It’s honestly amazing,” Henderson said. “My goal starting out when I was super little was to play at the college level and be honored with all of that. It just pushes me this year to get even better.”
Henderson said her coaches and teammates have created an atmosphere that has allowed her to excel in each of her previous three seasons for SRU. Ranking 12th in career blocks and 13th in offensive rebounds, Henderson should break into the top ten this season.
Despite being the only two seniors for The Rock, Slippery Rock head coach Bobby McGraw said that the talented pair have no issues in practically running practice day in and day out for the Green and White.
“With that veteran leadership, you see it on the floor every day. Practices now are on cruise control because the veterans take over,” commented McGraw. “Our drills not looking right? I hardly have to say anything because they take over.”
Having that strong leadership foundation has helped McGraw transform the Green and White from a perennial Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference bottom dweller into a team projected by the media to finish just behind the nationally ranked trio of Edinboro University, Indiana University (Pa.) and California University (Pa.). Having Henderson and Patterson play key minutes in an upset over defending PSAC Champion Edinboro and multiple wins over D-II powerhouse West Liberty over the past two seasons gives McGraw confidence for this season.
“What’s great about having them here, besides how talented they are, they’ve been here for some of the big wins,” said McGraw. “They’ve been here when we’ve beaten West Liberty back to back years. They’ve been here for when we’ve beaten Edinboro and all that cool stuff.”
Housing both women now, The Rock was not always home for Patterson and getting her to finally come play for SRU was enabled by a source McGraw would never have expected.
“Ciara’s grandmother is a retired Pennsylvania state trooper. I know her grandmother and I used to be a state trooper, too. Ciara’s last coach at Wright State, when he took the New Mexico job after she had got her release, her grandmother gave me a call and said, ‘would you be interested in Ciara transferring?’ I said, ‘how about tonight?’” McGraw explained.
Now that Patterson, originally a four-star prospect out of West Mifflin high school, has played a few seasons for The Rock – and excelled across all levels – the senior communication major said the laid-back atmosphere at SRU has allowed her to play her best basketball.
“The atmosphere and the culture at Wright State were a lot more upbeat and up tone, there are a lot more people, a lot more to do on campus,” Patterson said. “Although, I do like it here at Slippery Rock, it’s laid back, so it gives me a lot more time to focus on school work and athletics.”
Playing mostly off the bench for Wright State, Patterson put up 12.6 points a night in 2015-16 as a starter for the Green and White. Shooting 43% from three-point range, good for the fifth best single season percentage in school history, Patterson’s quick trigger from long range and quick hands nabbing 1.7 steals a game, which led the team, helped The Rock notch their best season since 2005-06.
After sitting out the following season for personal reasons, Patterson returned for junior season and led the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game and recorded a team high 29 three-pointers in just 11 games. Ready for the first full, truly prepared season of her career, the sky is the limit for the talented guard from North Versailles, Pa.
A deep conference tournament run will hinge on the star guard and McGraw knows Patterson is ready to carry this team.
“We can go back to the Millersville game, she was the PSAC West Athlete of the Week. That was one of the dominating performances I’ve ever been a part of,” McGraw recounted. “Ciara Patterson is the heart and soul of this team, she brings the fire.”
While winning on paper is always easier said than done, Rock women’s basketball is set up for a true breakout season. The type of season which has not been experienced in decades and it all starts with Morgan Henderson and Ciara Patterson.
“It means the world and any coach will probably tell you the same thing, veteran leadership… it starts there. That is the key to any successful season and we have it this year. Better than we’ve had in the previous four years.” McGraw proclaimed.
The Rock will return to action this weekend for the PSAC-CIAA Challenge in Erie, Ohio with games against Johnson C. Smith University and Elizabeth City State College. The following Sunday will be the first home game of the season against Bowie State University at Morrow Fieldhouse.