Feb. 7, 2013
By Mike Sheridan
Villanova Media Relations
The search for a canvas on which to best project one's personality can be an elusive target. Some search for decades. Others are more fortunate.
Rachel Roberts falls into the latter category. As a robust child growing up in Marlborough, Connecticut, she sampled all the sports that young people do.
"I had so much energy when I was a kid that my parents didn't know what to do with me," says Roberts, now a senior standout on the Villanova women's team that has 16 wins to its credit with more than three weeks left to play in the regular season.
She gave America's national pastime, baseball, a whirl.
"I stood in the outfield, had no idea what I was doing, and didn't care," she says.
Soccer, an outlet for so many youngsters across the land, was another option.
"At soccer, I would sit down on the field," she states.
Indeed, she sampled most everything available to the young athlete and found little to her liking.
"I played every sport possible," she notes, "and I hated every one of them. I wanted the ball all the time. If I had it, I wanted to do something with it."
One day when she was around age eight, Roberts arrived home with a flyer she gave to her parents, Zane and Cora Roberts. On the sheet was a form that would register her for youth basketball. Her father pointed out that she had, in fact, never played the game. The daughter was undeterred. Her parents consented and off to a tryout she went.
"I didn't know what the whistle meant," she explains. "I would keep running after the whistle, put up a shot whenever I touched the ball - I had no concept of the game."
Yet one fact stood above all of that.
"I loved," she states, "every minute of it. It was the best experience I ever had. I've been hooked ever since then."
Before her 10th birthday, Roberts had found her athletic niche. It is an enterprise that demands maximum exertion and suits those with what talent evaluators like to label a "high-motor". Roberts fit that bill then and does now. Her passion for the game was no passing fancy either - she latched on and went about the task of developing the skill level necessary to compete at a high level.
"I am," she notes, "a bundle of energy. I need to be stimulated and this is nice. Basketball is one of those things where when you are on the court you can't really be thinking of anything else. If I played football, I would want to the quarterback. If I played baseball, I would want to be the pitcher. Basketball really fits well with who I am."
Roberts totally immersed herself in the sport. Living in the state of Connecticut, she paid close attention to the University of Connecticut women's team.
"I was a huge UConn fan - huge," she notes. "I would be so upset if they would lose."
On one memorable night in March of 2003, the Huskies did fall to a Villanova team coached by Harry Perretta in the BIG EAST championship game at Rutgers. It ended an epic 70-game win streak and gave that Wildcat unit a permanent place in program lore. It also made an impression on an 11-year old living in the state.
"I remember watching Villanova beat UConn and saying to myself - `that's where I want to go, that's where I want to play,'" she recalls. "I guess you could say I had the Nova bug from an early age."
The distance between that point and her arrival, though, required a lot of hard work and development. A good bit of that came in the family's barn behind their home. Zane Roberts added a concrete floor to the barn and then, bundled in a heavy winter coat during the chilly New England winter, spent countless hours chasing rebounds for his daughter.
By the time she reached Mercy High School, Roberts was a prospect. Once there, she would become a three-time first-team all-state pick and a 1,700 point scorer. Other BIG EAST schools recruited her, but once the Wildcats' coaching staff expressed serious interest, those offers were little more than afterthoughts.
"I'm blessed and grateful that Harry gave me the chance to attend Villanova," Roberts states. "It was my lifelong dream to play college basketball."
Despite her early unfamiliarity with the nuances of the game, Roberts is a bright student who quickly adapted over through the years. When the time arrived for her to enter college, she was the kind of sharp player with proven long-range shooting skills who could fit seamlessly in the Villanova system.
The numbers and her steady progression suggest she has more than fulfilled her end of the bargain.
As a freshman she originally planned to red-shirt before injuries to her teammates in 2009-10 altered those plans. She saw action in 14 games, enough to get a taste of what it took to succeed at the highest level of college basketball. By the time she was a sophomore, she had become a starter and in 2011-12 Roberts started all 34 contests as the Wildcats returned to the post-season with an appearance in the WNIT.
This season, Roberts has been a linchpin of the Wildcats' success. She connects on 41 percent of her attempts from beyond the 3-point arc and is second to classmate Laura Sweeney on the squad in scoring at 11.0 ppg. What's more, she had her best scoring night of the campaign when the `Cats most needed her, pouring in a career-high 26 points to help VU down No. 22 Syracuse 64-59 at the Pavilion three days after the squad lost freshman standout Caroline Coyer to a wrist injury for the duration of the season.
"A lot of us have played together for the last four seasons," she says. "We've had some rough times but I think we've really come together now. As Harry says, our sum is greater than our individual parts."
Roberts knows well this is the final lap for her collegiately. She fully anticipates that her emotions will be on full display when she plays her final home game at the Pavilion on Senior Night March 4 against Providence.
"I will (cry) my eyes out," she says with a laugh. "I love my teammates and that's what I am going to miss most."
The wide vistas of the future, of course, beckon. Roberts will graduate with a degree from the Villanova School of Business in May and hopes to play professional basketball overseas. If that opportunity comes, it would offer her more than just an extended dance in the sport she cherishes, but the chance to satisfy her quest to sample as many life experiences as time and finances permit. She got a taste of Europe last summer while serving an internship in Rome.
"I love basketball," she says, "but there is so much beyond basketball. The world is a magnificent place."
During her summer in Europe, Roberts visited Croatia and went sky-diving in Prague.
"There is so much out there," she says. "My ultimate goal is to see everything I can in the world. There is so much there. I want go when I'm young and have no commitments. I want to see what's waiting for me out in the world."
Basketball has been an exquisite fit for Roberts and her boundless energy.
Soon that same "high-motor" may take her in a new direction.
Fully expect her to do so with maximum effort.