In basketball, rebounding is not the flashiest statistic. Yet its importance, not unlike less visible aspects of the game such as determination, preparation and toughness, is undeniable. Women's basketball tri-captain Leah Rubega '10 is a symbol of these characteristics and a major force behind the success of the women's basketball team during her four years as a Polar Bear.
Along with fellow senior captains Caitlin Hynes and Sabrina Cote, Rubega led the Polar Bears to a solid 22-7 record this past season. Although the women fell to Colby in the second round of the NESCAC tournament, the team managed to reach the Sweet Sixteen of the D-III NCAA Championships.
Rubega certainly had an impressive final season, becoming the first Bowdoin woman since 1995 to average a double-double. Rubega topped the NESCAC conference in rebounding average, pulling down an impressive 10.7 rebounds per game. That total was nearly two rebounds more per game than the second-place finisher.
As a native of Norwich, Connecticut, Rubega grew up watching the University of Connecticut women's basketball team during some of their most dominating years. And her favorite player?
"I was obsessed with Sue Bird, her intensity," Rubega said. "She was such a distinct player."
Bringing her best Sue Bird imitation to Bowdoin, Rubega immediately impressed Head Coach Adrienne Shibles with her determination and strength.
"My first impression of her was that she was a really tough kid," said Shibles. "I thought, 'Wow, this kid is really physically tough and I'm really glad that she's on our team.'"
That toughness carried Rubega throughout her career, earning her the admiration of players and coaches alike. Rubega was rewarded for her efforts in March, when she was named along with Hynes to the second team all-NESCAC. Rubega said that she was truly grateful for the award.
"When you see the list, you feel very honored to be among so many great athletes," said Rubega. "It's really nice to see something for all your years of hard work."
Perhaps most telling was Shibles's immediate response when asked what made Rubega such a successful basketball player during her four years at Bowdoin.
"Determination," said Shibles simply.
"She's motivated by excellence," added Shibles. "She wants to achieve the very highest level, and she expects a lot of herself and those around her."
Hynes agreed that Rubega is driven by her desire for excellence, elaborating to say that Rubega is the type of player a team comes to rely on.
"She's mentally and physically tough, and feisty," said Hynes. "You can count on her to be a presence for every minute of every game."
Rubega's rebounding numbers are made even more impressive by her small size in comparison with other forwards around the NESCAC conference. At five feet 10 inches, Rubega was often forced to contend with larger opponents.
"I'm somewhat of an undersized forward," said Rubega. "Most of the forwards that I match up against are taller, so I have to do those extra little things to get those rebounds."
"She is a phenomenal rebounder," added Hynes. "If there is a ball anywhere near her, she's going to get it."
Shibles concurred with Hynes, attributing Rubega's work around the boards as a result of her unrelenting effort.
"Despite the limitations of her size, she's incredibly tough and gritty," she said.
Although she lost her entire sophomore season to an ACL injury, Hynes praised Rubega for her reliability as both a player and teammate.
"She can have five different injuries and still play 100 percent," said Hynes. "Leah is just someone that you always want on the court."
Indeed, missing her sophomore season served as a constant reminder to always try her hardest no matter the situation. "Losing a season to an ACL injury, I make sure to enjoy every moment and bring that excitement when I play," said Rubega.
"Leah has been the most consistent player for four years," said Hynes. "She has never let up her intensity and fire, and she's been really good since her first game freshman year."
Rubega explained that her style of play was also reflected in her approach to being a captain.
"I'm not a hugely vocal leader, but I try to approach practice as important and taking nothing for granted," said Rubega.
"Leah's a very loyal person, teammate and friend," said Hynes. "She has the ideal personality for being a leader and a captain; she's really approachable and you feel comfortable asking her anything."
Shibles echoed Hynes in her praise for Rubega as a devoted individual, both on and off the court.
"She is a really focused person and a great student," Shibles said. "Leah has a deep love for her teammates and is incredibly loyal to them."
For Rubega, love of her team and the game of basketball go hand in hand.
"This season with these girls has been perfect," said Rubega. "To go out with this group, I couldn't have asked for anything more."