Walk-on made the right call

Ryan Schuster

Cheryl Littlejohn still remembers where she was when she received the call.
The Gophers women’s basketball coach was in her new office only days after taking over the reigns of the team from ex-coach Linda Hill-MacDonald last April when freshman walk-on Rachel Young called her.
“She just called me up when I got the job and let me know that she wanted to try out for the team,” Littlejohn said. “I had never seen her play before, and it was a complete surprise.”
Littlejohn told Young to go ahead and try out, but refused to make any promises about how much playing time she would receive.
But after a shaky start, Young has recovered to become one of the team’s most consistent players this season, earning the respect of her coaches and teammates with her hustle and heads-up play.
“She’s doing very well for being a walk-on,” Gophers senior center Angie Iverson said. “In the past, point guard has kind of been our weak spot. A lot of teams knew that and made full court presses because they knew a lot of times we couldn’t get the ball up the court. Rachel has done a very good job of handling the pressure and getting the ball to the right people.”
Young broke into the Gophers’ starting lineup Jan. 9 against Illinois, replacing Kiauna Burns, who had started the team’s first 13 games at point guard.
The 5-foot-5 pre-journalism major is only averaging three points, 2.5 assists and 2.4 turnovers in 27 minutes per game in Big Ten play, but her role on the team goes far beyond the stat sheet. Last weekend she took only four shots and didn’t score. She also had six assists and eight turnovers in 56 minutes of play, but played well defensively and did a good job of running the team’s offense.
Her numbers and especially her low scoring output have led some people to question how much she shoots, but Young doesn’t mind.
“I get that a lot from outsiders,” Young said. “But I’m going to take my shot when I can and not try to force my shot because that’s not my role. I know my role isn’t to score. My job is to create shots for people.”
She averaged 15 points and nine assists a game and was an honorable mention all-state selection during her senior year at South Eugene High School in Eugene, Ore.
Young was heavily recruited by several Division I universities in the Pacific Northwest before she decided that she wanted to go to school farther away from home.
“I didn’t really want to be close to home when I was choosing,” Young said. “I kind of snubbed the local teams in the Northwest area because I didn’t really want to stay home.”
After giving local schools the cold shoulder, Young narrowed down her choices to Nevada-Reno, Valparaiso, Weber State and several junior colleges. But she still wasn’t happy with her options.
“I didn’t really want to accept the choices that I had and I wanted to go to a school that had a good journalism program,” Young said.
After deciding that Minnesota was to her liking, Young, who plans to go into public relations, contacted Littlejohn and asked her for the opportunity to try out for the team.
Because of her walk-on status, Young is not getting any scholarship money. Except for a short stint at the beginning of fall quarter, she has not been able to work because of conflicts with team games and practices.
Because she has a mixed racial background and had a 3.8 GPA in high school, she was able to get a tuition waiver to receive in-state tuition, which has helped to ease her financial burden. Young has extensive financial aid loans and is receiving some help from her parents to pay for school.
The 18-year-old has also started to miss being at home and at times has second guessed her decision to come to Minnesota.
“I can’t lie,” Young said. “I’m kind of homesick. If I had felt that way when I was deciding on schools, I wouldn’t be here right now. But I’m thankful that I’m here now.”
Young calls home frequently and has run into further financial trouble with her large monthly phone bills. Her last phone bill was for more than $400, forcing her to take out a loan from the bank in order to pay it off.
One thing Young doesn’t have to worry about is losing her starting role anytime soon.
Littlejohn, who has used 12 different starting lineups this season, says that if Young continues to play the way she has been, she will remain the team’s starting point guard and earn a scholarship next season.
Nine months after Young’s call, the Gophers’ rookie coach is glad she picked up the phone.
“It’s a coach’s dream to have a walk-on,” Littlejohn said. “But, a walk-on that’s going to start for you and run your program? I don’t have any complaints. She’s taken care of business.”