By Matt Ensor, Graduate Assistant for VCU Athletic Communications
RICHMOND, Va. – It's been more than three months since the conference's pre-season media day in Arlington and nearly two months since the Rams played their first game of the year. Already the media's pre-determined storylines for the season and the fans' expectations have changed. Growth and development are two words Head Coach Beth Cunningham uses to describe her team's 11 games played so far.
"If you look at our team, I think one of the things I've been very pleased with is being comfortable playing any of our kids," Cunningham said. "I feel like it's been a team where, as a coaching staff, we feel really comfortable with all of them."
All 12 of the Rams on the active roster have seen action so far this season with seven of them already logging triple-digit minutes, led by junior Courtney Hurt (pictured, right).
Hurt is having the kind of season any player would dream of. Her 24.0 points per game and 13.7 rebounds per outing is not only leading her team and shattering the conference media's 2nd Team All-CAA expectations of her, but she is literally playing as well as any other player in the country. She leads the NCAA in rebounding and tied for the nation's lead in double-doubles (11). Hurt is also the third-leading scorer in the country, tied with Connecticut's Maya Moore. That sort of production has been more than welcomed by her coach, but Cunningham sees room for improvement in Hurt.
"Her production for us has been outstanding. I really felt like this was a role she was going to step into as a junior with the graduation of some key seniors last year," Cunningham continued. "As much as her numbers have increased, I still feel there's a lot of room for improvement and to make another jump for us heading into conference season. One thing I have really worked with her on is her leadership and getting her turnovers down. But she's been consistent in scoring and rebounding, and we're going to need that consistency for conference play."
Hurt isn't the only player riding the wave of rising expectations; sophomore Sonia Johnson (pictured, left) has developed into a secondary scoring threat for the Rams. Johnson's averaging more than 15 points per game over her last six outings.
"I think a lot of what we're seeing with Sonia is her being comfortable in our system and what we do," Cunningham said. "I felt like when we brought her in, we had high expectations of what her contributions were going to be for us this year. What she's doing right now isn't a surprise, it's what we expected."
While many of her teammates are 11 games into the year, junior guard Andrea Barbour's (pictured, right) season is only two games old. Her arrival in Richmond after transferring from Patrick Henry Community College came with a reputation of being a scorer. But make no mistake about it; Barbour is more than that to the Rams.
"We know that she's going to be a major impact on our team," Cunningham noted. "It's been great to finally get her in a uniform because she's spent the first semester practicing. She gives us a lot more versatility, ball handling, another scorer, and she is someone that's able to get easy baskets for us with steals."
In her two outings against Radford and William & Mary, Barbour averaged 12 points, seven rebounds, two assists and more than three steals a game. While her impact has already been seen on both ends of the court, Cunningham knows the true scope of Barbour's impact: "I don't think she's anywhere near where she's going to be as she continues to play here with us."
The Rams are not the same team of October's CAA Media Day predictions. They're not the same team from the season opener in November, and they won't be the same team we see come March. As the Rams' head coach puts it, "There's a lot of potential, and certainly we're young, but we're going to be a completely different team by the end of the year than we are right now."
And now we know it won't be for the worse.