Freshman stands out, earns two Newcomer of the Week awards
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Chinese food and the University of Kentucky athletics program are two of freshman Rianna Gayheart’s favorite things. Gayheart is a 5-foot-7-inch guard for NKU’s women’s basketball team from Owenton, Ky., who has obtained two awards from the Atlantic Sun Conference naming her “Newcomer of the Week.”
During high school, she was also named an honorable mention all-state senior.
Gayheart has played in 22 games this season and averages over seven points a game. She also contributes an average of three rebounds and three assists per game.
Gayheart has progressed in understanding when to attack and how to make decisions on attacking on the court in transition, and by doing this, it creates opportunities for her teammates, according to Dawn Plitzuweit, NKU women’s basketball head coach.
Eighteen-year-old Gayheart is one of five freshmen on the team this year. She has been on the court for 500 minutes this season, beating out every other freshman in playing time besides fellow guard Christine Roush, who names Gayheart as a good friend.
“We have a great relationship,” Roush, a biology major, said. “We’ve been roommates since the summer and we have a closer connection since we’re both from Kentucky. We just know each other. We’re really close friends.”
Gayheart said the entire team gets along really well.
“It’s very important to come to a team that is also a family,” Gayheart said. “I’m only an hour from my actual home, but this is home to me, too.”
Besides bonding, the team as a whole is ranked fourth overall in the A-Sun with an 8-6 record in the conference. Coach Plitzuweit said Gayheart has really contributed as a player with her scoring.
“She’s a basketball junkie in a lot of ways,” Plitzuweit said. “She watches and studies the game and picks up on things quickly. Her scoring and her ability to make plays for us led her to the awards. Her defensive awareness continues to improve, also.”
For Gayheart, the awards are more of a team achievement.
“It’s awesome,” Gayheart said. “Definitely not an individual award. My name is on the paper, but it’s my team’s award, too. We all want to do our best. We all want to get the award.”
Although Gayheart is a freshman, her teammates look to her on the court. Defensively she has 55 rebounds for the season out of her 66 total, she also has 28 steals.
“I look up to her,” Roush said. “She’s a leader on the court and not afraid to take control of the ball. She’s not afraid of taking chances and has really improved her shot over the season. Her defense is great. She’s a great hustle player.”
Gayheart said that transitioning from a high school team to a Division I league is a big step.
“You have to improve on every part of your game,” Gayheart said. “I’ve definitely noticed my shooting and defense has gotten a lot better.”
Not only is Gayheart an effective player on the court, she is also known to have a great personality off the court.
“I think she’s a fun-loving kid,” Plitzuweit said. “She gets along with her teammates really well.”
The team plays on Saturday at 2 p.m. against Mercer who is ranked second in the conference with a 12-2 record. The team will return home Feb. 28 to face North Florida at 5 p.m.