Ohio coach Bob Boldon rearranged the starting lineup for Ohio’s game against Mercyhurst on Saturday. A new face emerged from Ohio’s bench when the lights went out to announce the starting lineups. Freshman Yaya Felder earned her first career start.
The Hartford, Connecticut, native had played a handful of minutes in the Bobcats’ first three games of the season. However, she had yet to shine in that limited spotlight.
Felder is a physical guard who is unafraid to fight for a rebound. Felder doubled her previous career-high four rebounds on Saturday afternoon. She earned eight rebounds in Ohio’s 90-46 win over Mercyhurst, five of which were defensive.
“She’s a fearless rebounder and welcomes challenges defensively,” Boldon said.
There’s not a single ounce of doubt in Felder’s eyes when she attacks the rim. Her physicality is something that will help Ohio in Mid-American Conference play. Although she is among the smaller athletes on the roster at 5-foot-8, Felder stands tall at the basket thanks to her aggressiveness.
It’s Felder’s defensive-mindset that helps her distribute the ball to the other Bobcats on the court. She has a pass-first mentality and it allows her to give the ball to those who are in a better position to score. However, it does not stop Felder from going to the basket when she has a clear path.
Felder ranked third among the Bobcats on Saturday with 10 points and was 4-of-7 from the field. She fell just behind the duo of Cece Hooks and Erica Johnson, who scored 21 points apiece. However, it’s not how she stacked up against her own team that matters. Felder outscored all but one Laker, Grace Clary, who had 11 points.
While these numbers may not jump off the page, they’re still strong for an underclassman like Felder. She is still in the process acclimating to the pace of college play and the Bobcats’ playstyle. Her first start was merely a glimpse into the talent that Felder brings to the table.
“She’s a wonderful kid and a hard working kid,” Boldon said. “And both of those can translate well in college.”
Felder is just one of the multiple underclassmen that earned substantial playing time against Mercyhurst. Ella Pope, Kendall Hale and Kate Dennis were also out on the court for Ohio. Felder and Pope spent a combined 56 minutes on the court. It allowed for Johnson and Hooks to take a break and watch the younger athletes do their thing. They both enjoyed getting to share the spotlight with Felder and the underclassmen.
“We play so many minutes so it’s good to actually give them an opportunity to show their talents and just learn,” Hooks said. “It was good to watch them and cheer them on as well.”
Johnson shared the same sentiment as Hooks and acknowledged that the Bobcats cannot succeed without a team effort. As their season wears on, the Bobcats need to have all hands on deck.
“We’re (going to) need everybody to win it all,” Johnson said. “Everybody on this team works hard, and it's (going to) pay off. Be ready when your number is called, and that’s what Yaya did today.”
Felder’s start on Saturday may have been her first for Ohio, but there’s more in store for the freshman. She has a keen eye for defense and works well with Ohio’s shooters. Her college-level basketball IQ will come with time, but Saturday might not the last start for Felder.