By Gabby Guerard
Despite living two floors away, first-year Rachel Vinton can usually be found on 1C in Gulick – not because she lives there, but because that’s where her teammate Sam Hourihan lives.
Though, this duo has been in the making for much longer than just a few months. They’ve been teammates for the last five years.
Back when Springfield College women’s basketball head coach Naomi Graves and her coaching staff were out recruiting to build the Pride’s class of 2023, initially the focus was on Hourihan. However while watching the AAU team, which also featured Bea Bondhus, Vinton’s clear athleticism sparked interest quickly.
Despite some initial hesitation to recruit two student-athletes from the same team, Graves knew she wanted both players.
“That can hurt you or help you sometimes, I don’t usually bring in more than one kid off an AAU team,” she said. “But it just happened to be that when I was watching Sam, I fell in love with Rachel, I’m like, ‘We need a point guard, I like that kid, let’s do it.’”
It was only a matter of time before both Vinton and Hourihan were committed to Springfield College. While Vinton wasn’t surprised when she found out Hourihan would be joining the Pride, Hourihan was pleasantly shocked to hear about Vinton’s decision last October.
“I didn’t even know that she was committing here, and then I like saw it and I was like, ‘What the heck? That’s my No. 1 school too! Like, what the heck?’” Hourihan recalled, as the two laughed at the memory.
After traveling the country together during the summer and playing together throughout high school, the two developed chemistry on and off the court. And knowing that there would be at least one friendly face on Alden Street was a big relief as incoming first-year student-athletes.
“The team is like your built in best friends, all 15 of them,” Hourihan said. “But then when you have your actual best friend, it is even more helpful because you already know someone, so it’s easier to get to know everyone else on the team.”
Both Vinton and Hourihan have had major impacts early in their first season with the Pride, each competing in every game so far. Hourihan, who averages 7.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in 28 minutes of play, has picked up three double-doubles so far, while Vinton, who averages 3.0 points and 2.1 rebounds in 12.4 minutes of play per game, is usually one of the first players to come in off the bench.
“I think what excites me the most about Rachel is you can see her getting better every day, and she’s so athletic that she’s just fun,” Graves said. “She’s explosive, she’s disciplined enough to know what she does well, she’s a typical freshman (because) she’s a little inconsistent in terms of how she finishes, but I think what excites me is just her eagerness to learn, her willingness to just be thrown into the two spot because I want to play her more, I mean I just think that’s what I’m excited about.”
Vinton initially came in as the backup point guard behind starter Alex Goslin. However, after seeing her skills and athleticism, Graves knew she needed to find a way to incorporate her on the court more often, which meant sliding her to shooting guard as well.
“She’s so darn athletic, like I can’t keep her on the bench behind Alex because she’ll never get out of there,” Graves added with a smile.
Although Vinton had a smooth transition to the college level from a physicality standpoint, she initially struggled with running the sets. Back in high school, Vinton was used to a completely different style of offense.
“That’s a huge adjustment for me because we just like ‘run and gun’ that’s how I used to play — no plays, like you just go,” Vinton said. “And now I’m getting used to it, but I like it. I like the structure.”
Vinton wasn’t the only one who had to adjust to a different style of play. Like her teammate, Hourihan found herself needing to take some time to adapt to the college level too.
“Sam is going to be an impact kid. I think she’s adjusting to the college game really well. She’s comfortable now, you know you can start seeing it,” Graves said. “I think there was a big adjustment of how hard you work in practice and what you have to put out, and you know you could see that she was lost for a long time, like ‘oh my God, I’ve got to remember sets, I’ve got to work hard on defense,’ but now she’s coming into her own. She’s going to be good.”
Hourihan agreed that it took her some time to get used to the college level. Especially as a starter, she knew there was a lot expected of her and has been thankful for all the help from her teammates and coaches.
“For me it was a big adjustment. It’s a lot faster and the girls are obviously, like everyone is so good and it’s a lot more physical, and so trying to find my way in the offense and when I’m in the defense and playing took some time to get used to,” Hourihan said. “But now I think that everyone is in a groove all together and we all know our roles and so it’s really good now.”
With the help of the upperclassmen, Vinton and Hourihan have adjusted to the level of play and have already improved in just the opening 10 games of the season. Considering the impact they’ve had so early, Graves sees a lot of potential in the two first-year players and believes they’re only going to continue to get better every day — something she couldn’t be more excited about.
“Sometimes the riches of coaching don’t come in wins and losses, but come in development,” Graves said.
And throughout that development, Hourihan and Vinton will be able to lean on each other, just as they have been doing ever since high school — on and off the court.
Featured photo courtesy Springfield College Athletics