NEW YORK (AP) — Erin Rooney has been the catalyst for the women's basketball revival at Fordham the last two seasons.
After leading the Rams within a point of their first NCAA tournament bid in 19 years last season, Rooney has the team off to its best start in school history.
"She is a special player," Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said. "She's one of the very best I've ever coached."
It's crazy to think that the New Zealand native almost never came to the school.
Rooney was recruited by Gaitley when the coach was at Monmouth. Twice, Gaitley went to see Rooney play, but the guard was hampered by sprained ankles, once in Las Vegas and once when Gaitley made the 8,000-mile journey to New Zealand.
Even without seeing her play much on the court, Gaitley was thoroughly impressed by Rooney's leadership skills.
"She was a natural leader even though she couldn't do too much on the court," said Gaitley, who offered her a scholarship.
When Gaitley left for Fordham in 2011, Rooney almost wasn't going to come with her coach. Rooney wanted to be a neuroscience major and Fordham didn't offer it. But Gaitley convinced the young star to at least visit the Bronx campus. Luck was on Gaitley's side as Rooney learned in a meeting with a science professor that the school would be offering the major in the future so she decided to return the trust her coach had shown and transfer to Fordham.
"She has been a second mother to me since I came to the U.S. so I felt I should stay with her," Rooney said.
The move paid off. After sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, Rooney has led the Rams to unprecedented heights. She was the team's second-leading scorer last season and helped Fordham to its first winning season since 1994-95. Rooney and the Rams made it to the Atlantic 10 tournament title game where they fell just short against Saint Joseph's, losing 47-46.
"I watched the game a lot last season as it really hurt," she said. "Finally after the WNIT I knew it was time to move on."