Walking on to big roles with the Mountaineers
They came in without a lot of fanfare, without a ton of expectations on their shoulders.
They were undersized players from area schools, two from District 4, one from District 2, none of the three highly recruited.
When Katie Yale, Kayla Allen and Molly Wood arrived at Mansfield University they didn't know what to expect.
The three were walk-ons. A role that in many places involves pushing the regulars in practice, while rarely seeing any playing time.
However, these aren't your average walk-ons.
Against Kutztown on Wendesday the three combined for 49 minutes. They had nine rebounds and three points, two steals, an assist and a block between them.
Yale, a sophomore who was a 1,000-point scorer at Forest City in D2, has started every game this year. She averages 4.7 points and three rebounds a game.
So far this season Allen, a freshman from Jersey Shore, is averaging 7.3 minutes a game, while Wood, a fellow freshman and Mansfield High School graduate, played 13 minutes with four rebounds and two points on Wednesday and is averaging five minutes a game.
A year ago Yale came into the Mansfield program and started earning playing time and for her watching two freshmen do the same thing this year is fun.
"It gives me a lot of inspiration to work harder," Yale said. "Now I am starting and I need to keep working and keep doing the things I am doing."
For Allen and Wood watching what Yale has accomplished makes them work even harder.
"She motivates me," Allen said. "I know she's a walk on and she's starting, so it makes me push harder because I feel like I can start to."
One of the big keys reasons all three have gotten playing time is their work on the defensive end.
"I feel like defense leads to offense," Yale said.
"Defense is definitely the key to our game," Allen said. "We have to play good defense."
There have been challenges for all three in their careers. Wood is a post player at 5-feet, 9-inches, while a year ago Yale had to spend time in the post at 5-feet, 7-inches, while Allen, 5-feet, 8-inches, is one of the smaller girls on the team.
"At my school (in high school), we just ran whatever we ran and no one lifted or worked out," Allen said. "Here, everyone lifts."
"I feel a lot smaller now," Wood said. "In high school there aren't that many people bigger than you, here there are so many bigger players."
One of the things that helps prepare the three for bigger players in games, is going up against the bigger players in practice.
"The girls during practice don't take it easy on us," Allen said.
"It definitely helps," Yale said. "Jena (Matter) is one of the more talented posts in the league. There aren't a lot of posts you are going to see better than her."
"As a guard it helps having Megan (McSwain) and Alyssa (DeRichie). In high school you don't see people who can do the ball tricks and the things with the ball they do."
"Practicing helps," Wood said. "It gets me ready for the taller players."
While the three may not be as big as some of the players they go up against, they do have one thing on their side.
"Being quick helps," Allen said.
The three not only have speed, they also have worked hard to have this success.
Right from the start of practices this year Yale could see a little of herself in Allen and Wood.
"Last year we would do sprints and I'd be 10 feet in front of everyone, now I have to race to try and keep up with Kayla," she said. "Having them here makes me want to play harder, it makes me want to push myself even more."
The one thing the three like is that they have had the chance to succeed.
"It feels like all the hard work is pyaing off," Allen said.
"Coadh doesn't care if you are a starter or a walk-on," Yale said. "I'm a starter and I wasn't on the floor the last four minutes (against Kutztown) and Molly was. I wouldn't have taken her out if I was coach either, she was playing really well."
That's been one of the keys for the three is getting an opportunity to succeed.
A former Mansfield standout herself coach Alison Tagliaferri knows what it takes to succeed in the conference and she is willing to play whoever gives the team the best chance to win.
"She knows what to expect from players," Yale said.
"She's one of the best coaches I've had," Allen added.
In many places walk-ons don't expect to see playing time, and freshmen walk-ons really don't expect to play much.
"It's not just walk-ons, a lot of players, even with scholarships, don't play much as freshmen," Yale said.
While it might be rare for three walk-ons to be making an impact on a basketball team, there are plenty of walk-ons who have had big-time success in sports.
Former Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin started as a walk-on and became a starter and now starts for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.
NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was once a walk-on at Central Arkansas, while Hall of Fame baseball player Ozzie Smith once walked on at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
Even current standouts like the Phillies' Ryan Howard and the Yankees' Brett Gardner were walk-on baseball players and All-Pro defensive players in the NFL Clay Matthews and J.J. Watt were each former college walk-ons.
"A lot of players from smaller schools see D2 and say I can't ever play at D2," Yale said. "It shows that there are opportunities if you work at it."
And, while they came in as walk-ons, they don't feel that way around their teammates and they certainly don't feel that way when they step on the court.
"With everyone on this team I don't feel like a walk-on," Wood said. "You just kind of forget about it after a while."