By Logan VanDine
WITH just five returning players for Rider women’s basketball, the Broncs will look a lot different than last year, as the team looks to play much better than the previous season.
One of those returning players is senior guard Makayla Firebaugh.
Firebaugh has been with the Broncs since the 2020- 21 season, and found it surprising how much time had flown by as she enters her final season.
“Every day I’m so shocked, and I’m like, wow, I’m a senior. I literally graduate next semester and to me it’s mind-boggling,” Firebaugh said.
When it came to describing her overall tenure with the Broncs, with a smile on her face, Firebaugh said she could not have been happier with her experience.
“I loved it, it’s literally so fun. A lot of new experiences, a lot of new friends, and it’s definitely very family-oriented, very close-knit, which I love, and just a great atmosphere and a great community,” Firebaugh said.
Firebaugh also recalled some memorable moments she’s had on the team that have really stuck out to her which included hitting a game-winning three against Saint Francis.
“There are some games where I was like, ‘That was a good game.’ We played overtime against Saint Francis in Brooklyn, New York. That game was very good and when we went to Ireland, those games were really good. It was fun and definitely one for the record books, and that was a moment I will remember forever,” she said.
Throughout Firebaugh’s tenure, she has compiled an impressive resume. During the 2020-21 season, she held the titles of second team All-MAAC and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference co-rookie of the year. She also placed second in the MAAC in number of three- pointers scored and third in number of minutes played, with 40 three-pointers and 764 minutes on the court.
On top of her impressive freshman year, Firebaugh started every game in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. Her 67 three-pointers in the 2021-22 season led the MAAC that year. She was a member of the MAAC All-Academic team that season as well.
Just this past season, Firebaugh led the team in points per game with 14.3, which ranked sixth in the conference.
“Coming into my freshman year, pace and everything was so different, and freshman year nobody knew me and nobody knew what I was capable of, and then sophomore year everybody was like ‘Firebaugh, Firebaugh, Firebaugh,’” she said. “Coach said you have to grow every year, and I finally realized and it clicked with me and I knew that I had to progressively grow every year to take my game to the next level and to continue to play at this level,” Firebaugh said.
She also stated that could not have gotten where she was as a player without the help of Milligan.
“She’s honestly meant a tremendous amount to me and my family. She took me in and she believed in me,” said Firebaugh.“She keeps me accountable which I love and I owe her for.”
Milligan, who is entering her 17th season as the women’s basketball head coach, had nothing but praise for Firebaugh, not just as a player, but as a leader.
“[Firebaugh] has meant a great deal to the team. She is one of our five returners and has taken a much bigger leadership role.” Milligan said.
Milligan also recalled that when she first met Firebaugh, she knew she had a special player.
“When I first met [Firebaugh] and we started recruiting her, she had a confidence about her that was obvious. She has never been afraid of the moment since she got here. She has a great work ethic and wants to be great. Our philosophy is heart and soul and [she] has it,” Milligan said.
Firebaugh has a lot of optimism about the upcoming season despite being one of just five returning players.
“[The new teammates] didn’t know what to expect walking in here, and obviously I’ve been here all my four years, I kinda like give that off, and I’m like, ‘This is what we are about, this is what we do, so everyone is kind of adapting to that culture and atmosphere, and once everyone buys into it, we are all on the same page,” Firebaugh said.