After a successful coaching career at the University of Chicago, first-year head coach Aaron Roussell took his talents to Lewisburg this fall and guided the women’s basketball team to its biggest season turnaround in program history. The Bison improved from a five-win season last year to a 15-16 overall record in 2012-2013, including an impressive Senior Night upset over Navy and second-half comeback victory against American in the first round of the Patriot League Tournament.
Roussell honored his five seniors on their special night, putting them in the starting lineup at the beginning of the game. Seniors Ashley Baxter, Alyssa Dunn, Lindsay Horbatuck, Felicia Mgbada and Rachel Voss were each recognized before the game, a shining moment in Roussell’s first season with the Orange and Blue.
“On the floor an obvious highlight was the tournament win, but ultimately the game I wanted to win the most and enjoyed the most was on Senior Night. That night was perfect in so many ways and there won’t be many moments that will ever top how special that night was to me,” Roussell said.
Starting forward Audrey Dotson ’15 appreciates the guidance that Roussell has provided this year, along with his genuine relationship with the players.
“Coach Roussell has been such a great addition to our program this year. He pushes all of us to work hard so we can reach our potential on and off the court. It’s obvious that he really cares about us and his support throughout the whole year has been really helpful. I’m not at all surprised that he is Coach of the Year!” Dotson said.
Leading scorer and captain Shelby Romine ’14 echoes Dotson’s praise of Roussell. It was also a special moment for the team when Romine became the 20th member of the program’s 1,000 point club.
“He has made such a positive impact on our program, and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to play for him. He’s a great coach and deserves this recognition,” Romine said.
Roussell’s presence in his first year as head coach was felt when he led the Bison to a five-game winning streak in the beginning of the season, including road wins over Canisius and Morgan State. He also enjoyed a four-game conference win streak with victories against Colgate, Lafayette, Lehigh and Holy Cross. The game against Holy Cross was especially memorable, as the Orange and Blue erased a 14-point second half deficit to come away with a 62-59 victory on Jan. 26.
That gritty team effort was shown all season, and it was on display during the first-round of the Patriot League Tournament where the Bison defeated American 46-43 in Washington D.C. on March 7. Patriot League leading rebounder and co-captain Horbatuck recalls how Roussell was a driving force in the Orange and Blue overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit.
“Coach challenged us to leave everything out on the floor, and told us that all the hard work since October came down to the next 20 minutes and how we performed would allow for our season to continue or not. Even though we were down by a handful of points and it was a rough half, it was obvious at that moment that Coach Roussell was so passionate about basketball, our team and winning,” Horbatuck said.
His influence carried over from the Senior Night win against Navy, where his verbal leadership ability translated to his players’ dedication to winning on the court.
“My favorite memory about him this year was when he gave a really powerful and motivational pre-game speech before Senior Night against Navy. It really made us want to work hard and win our last home game for our seniors. Navy was first in the league and a very tough matchup for us but we went out and won. He definitely motivated us to go out there and play our hardest with no regrets,” Dotson said.
Despite elimination in the second round of the tournament, Roussell and his team had a number of accomplishments to be proud of this season, including setting the program’s single-season rebounding record. Romine and Horbatuck also garnered league honors, with Romine being named to the All-Patriot League Second Team and Horbatuck placed on the Academic All-Patriot League Team.
Roussell’s impact on the Bison goes beyond the game of basketball, as he emphasizes the importance of developing as a person which includes the education that each of his players receive at the University.
“This was a very fun team to coach because they are all so likeable and good human beings—I am very proud to say that I coach each of these young women and we are all lucky that we can attach Bucknell’s name to all that they accomplish in the future,” Roussell said.
“He pushed us to be better players on the court as well as women off the court. I will always remember the incredible senior year that I had and the life lessons that I learned from Coach Roussell,” Horbatuck said.
Roussell was recognized as one of two finalists for the 2013 Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year, an award that acknowledges the accomplishments of a women’s basketball head coach in their first season with a program. He set a women’s basketball program record, earning 15 wins in his rookie campaign. Roussell hopes to improve on the successful season he has had this year, as he looks to build the Bison into Patriot League Championship contenders.
“Our goal for this season was to change the culture and attitude of this program,” Roussell said. “We have begun to do that, but for my standards, we have just scratched the surface in those aspects. We will be a young team next year, but that can sometimes make things a lot of fun as well. My goals never go beyond winning our next game, but I do hope that our players are dreaming big because this program is going to accomplish some great things over the next few years and I would prefer that to be sooner rather than later.”