LOUDONVILLE — In high school, she was nicknamed Storm.
In college, Deja Rawls’ temperament has been anything but stormy.
Rawls has been a solid contributor as a three-year starter for the Siena College women’s basketball team. Head coach Ali Jaques continues to be impressed by the senior’s silent tenacity on the floor.
“I think one of the things that makes Deja really, really special is that if she decides to learn how to play poker and go to Vegas, she would win millions because you never know what this kid is feeling,” Jaques said Tuesday at the team’s media day.
“She’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever had the chance to coach. She knows where the ball needs to go. when it needs to get there. when time is running down. I think that experience and that poker face and that calm toughness permeates throughout the team.”
Last season, Rawls averaged 4.4 points per game and finished with 91 assists in 31 starts as a junior. She is the floor general of the Saints and the offense is run through the play of the experienced point guard.
“The assists come from my team scoring,” Rawls said. “I get the ball to them, they score. It’s just an everyday thing.”
This year, the competition is as tough as ever in the MAAC conference. Quinnipiac has made an NCAA appearance two years in a row, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2016-17. Marist, who beat Siena in the MAAC semifinals, returns all of its starters from 2017-18. But Jaques believes that with the senior leadership returning, Siena will be battling for a spot in the NCAA tournament next March.
“We bring a lot back, too. I think this team has a lot to prove,” Jaques said. “The maturity that I see in this team is not worrying about everyone else right now, and just worrying about our house and fixing what we need to fix to be better tomorrow. And when you have leadership like that, there’s no limit to where you can go.”
Jaques is excited about the new, talented recruiting class that she brought in and that has created some internal competition — even at the point guard position.
“Deja is being challenged right now by some freshman that we’ve brought in,” Jaques said. “I think it’s really the first time that Deja is being pushed, and we’re seeing her grow and we’re seeing her step up.”
For Rawls, she just continues to attack each day with the same intensity.
“I always have a chip on my shoulder every time I step on the floor. So do my teammates and we always have something to prove everytime we step on the court. I just feel like an underdog so we’ve got a lot to prove.”
With four seniors returning and six freshman joining the roster, the expectations are high for the Saints who finished 17-14 a year ago. The Saints open the season Nov. 10 against Pennsylvania at home, a start toward what Jaques and Rawls expect to be a memorable campaign.
“I anticipate [that] heading into MAAC, we’ll be full steam ahead and ready to challenge the teams that have been picked ahead of us,” Jaques said.
“My expectation is just to win,” Rawls said. “I just want to get my team in the right position to win. Anything it takes to get a W.”