By Thomas Walter, Bucknell Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Most Bucknell student-athletes are smart. But, Katherine Harris – she’s really smart. Dean’s List and Patriot League Academic Honor Roll her freshman year? No problem. How about Dean’s List, Patriot League Academic Honor Roll and adjusting to a different style of play installed by new head coach Aaron Roussell in her second year as a Bison? Again, no problem.
The 5’6” guard from Derry, New Hampshire, saw her minutes increase drastically after her freshman year and became a reliable player for Roussell. The game isn’t as overwhelmingly fast anymore for this valuable guard who uses her smarts to negate her height disadvantage.
Harris arrived in Lewisburg in the fall of 2011 and admitted that it took a bit of time to get used to both the increased size and pace of the collegiate game.
“It was a big adjustment coming from high school – especially from playing in New Hampshire where I could play four positions on the court because there weren’t many tall people,” explains Harris. “I remember freshman year here playing pick-up and getting blocked all the time.”
Harris was playing AAU basketball when Bucknell reached out to her to express interest in recruiting her. Harris was intrigued, but needed to learn a little more about the school. She was aware of the pedigree of the Patriot League’s combination of athletics and academics, but it wasn’t until her official visit that everything came into place.
“I came to visit, came to the basketball camp, and came on an official visit. On that official visit I had a great discussion with the head of the math department, which was important to me on the academic side of things,” says Harris. “But, what really convinced me was the good connection I felt with the girls who were already on the team. This was important to me because I had been on some teams that weren’t as close.”
None of that made her freshman year any easier. Even though she appeared in 25 games off the bench, she received minimal playing time. Following a 5-24 season and a first-round exit from the Patriot League Tournament, an extensive search was held to find a new head coach. The search yielded Roussell from the University of Chicago. Roussell led the Maroons to a 161-50 record – bringing with him both high expectations and a new game plan for the women Bison.
“It was definitely a major adjustment. We changed our entire offensive strategy,” tells Harris. “Freshman year we ran a lot of set plays and last year as soon as Coach Roussell came in we installed his new offense. It was a major change for everyone, but I think last year everyone did a good job moving with it on the fly and now we feel comfortable and I think it works really well.”
In the new system, Harris’ game flourished. She appeared in all 31 contests last season – 15 of which she started. Harris’ game provides an additional versatile presence for Roussell, who can utilize her in many ways. She averaged 23.8 minutes per game, finished second on the team in 3-point field goals made with 27 and scored a career-high 10 points against Youngstown State.
“It’s very important to have a bench presence, especially this year with the hand-check rule adjustment. A lot more fouls are being called,” explains Harris. “As a result of that you are seeing teams without deep benches really struggle. It’s very important for players to come off the bench to provide a spark and a consistent level of play. There shouldn’t be any change between the starters and girls on the bench.”
The team experienced a resurgence last winter as the new-look Bison finished the regular season 14-15 and as the sixth seed in the Patriot League. A first-round showdown with third-seeded American, which the Bison won, followed. Harris contributed valuable minutes in both that game and the subsequent loss to Navy in the Patriot League semifinals.
During the adjustment-filled season, Harris still earned both Dean’s List and Patriot League Academic Honor Roll honors, illustrating just how important academics are to Bucknell student-athletes.
The women’s basketball team opened this season with a 3-4 mark. However, tough opponents such as Pittsburgh, Virginia State and Penn State made it difficult to evaluate where this team stood early on in Harris’ junior year.
“It’s hard to evaluate where we are right now because of the competition we have faced. I think it’s frustrating for us to not be winning as much, but we know that it will help us down the road. With so many freshmen, we have gotten into a really great flow, which will only get better,” she says.
Harris also spoke on the team’s goals for this year. She expressed that the team believes they are capable of competing with anyone and to ultimately win the program’s first Patriot League Championship title since 2008. Harris and the rest of the Bison squad know that the stronger competition during the opening stretch of her junior year will only help the team compete better in January when regular-season Patriot League play commences. Creating turnovers will be a key to the Bison’s success
“One thing we have been talking about recently is stepping up pressure on defense. We have been having trouble forcing turnovers so in the future games we are going to put an emphasis on ball pressure to try and make our opponents feel,” says Harris.
As for her own individual goals, Harris just wants to put an emphasis of making the most of the playing time she receives. She believes in making all minutes she gets matter, so she has been working on different things other than scoring. Harris has been trying to improve on her weaknesses in order to improve her play.
Smart; very smart.
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Basketball Gameday Program.