Scott Rueck has never been afraid to play a freshman.

In fact, while at George Fox University, he won a national title in 2008-09 with 10 freshmen on the team and two in the starting lineup.

Freshmen have played a major role in his success since taking over the Oregon State program 10 seasons ago as well.

Ali Gibson played and started in all 33 games in her first campaign in 2011-12.

The next season, Deven Hunter (28 starts in 31 games) and Jamie Weisner (24 starts in 31 games) were key.

In 2013-14, Sydney Wiese started all 35 games.

Other freshmen have also played significant roles over the years, like Katie McWilliams in 2015-16 filling in at the point guard spot when Wiese was injured. She made 11 starts that season.

Current senior Mikayla Pivec moved into the starting lineup after nine game her freshman season in 206-17 while current juniors Aleah Goodman and Taya Corosdale had big contributions in their rookie campaigns in 2017-18. Corosdale started the last 25 games.

That’s an impressive list of freshman contributors and it doesn’t include Ruth Hamblin, who played in 28 games as a freshman but really rose to prominence as a sophomore.

So it would be no surprise for a freshman or two see significant playing time this season, even on a deep and talented team, and even crack the starting lineup.

“We’re not waiting for them to contribute we want them to contribute now,” Rueck said last week. “They’re certainly going to have that opportunity just like everyone else has.”

The Beavers have a strong class of freshmen this season, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Kennedy Brown, a 6-foot-6 forward.

Then there is Taylor Jones, a 6-4 forward and 6-9 center Jelena Mitrovic.

“Kennedy and Taylor have a pedigree very similar to those (previous freshmen) where they’ve had so much success, they’re used to it,” Rueck said. “They’re here just for the next challenge.

“We saw that in Italy, they weren’t really fazed playing with us, they were just ready to play and they did a great job adapting. To learn as you go, to understand you’re going to make mistakes and just figure it out and get better and that’s what they’ve both demonstrated to this point.”

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Jones and Brown have each drought a different skillset to the table. Jones has been a strong presence in the post while Brown is working more on the perimeter, Rueck said.

Jones said this summer that she understands the learning curve will be significant as the competition level she played in high school is nowhere near what lies ahead.

Rueck said she has been fearless and aggressive on the court.

“For her there’s a learning curve for sure and it’s been this fine line,” he said. “I don’t want her to think too much, I don’t want to slow her down even though there are certainly things to learn.

“I think she’s really maintained her aggressiveness through the learning process to this point and done a really good job. The relationship she has with our guards catching the ball and when is becoming more and more fluid.”

Goodman said it’s not easy, especially in the Beavers’ system, to pick things up so quickly.

“I remember my freshmen year I was overwhelmed,” Goodman recalled. “We throw a lot on the newcomers and they have all done an awesome job just kind of soaking it in. They’re all like sponges and they take everything you say and they just go and do it. I’m super proud of them and how well they’ve taken everything and ran with it.”

Added Destiny Slocum: “They came in fearless right away and really poised and you can’t say that about a ton of freshmen out there. All our freshmen came in with their heads on straight ready to learn, ears wide open and it’s been a huge payoff for them now.”

Mitrovic has yet to contribute as she is recovering from surgery on her knee. Rueck said he doesn’t have a timetable for her return.

“But she’s another player that has a similar background where she’s had a lot of international success,” he said. “So my plan is for her to have a role this year as well.”

Noelle Mannen, a freshman walk-on, has also been a big lift at the guard position and has more than held her own as she has helped out with Kat Tudor still recovering from a torn ACL.

“Noelle has done a great job and just played fearlessly to this point,” Rueck said. “In her role she’s making us better as well.”

With continued hard work, the sky is the limit for each player. The Beavers have exhibition games on Oct. 27 and Nov. 1, and take on Team USA on Nov. 4 before opening the regular season at 6 p.m. on Nov.9 against UC Irvine in the preseason WNIT.

“Empowered freshmen do great things and these are that so we’re expecting them to have a great year,” Rueck said.

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald