Rutgers Pregame Player QuotesÂApril 2, 2007Â

Essence Carson

On Coach Stringers comments that they are a team of destiny: In the beginning of the season, we really struggled. It was tough, especially with five freshmen. They not only had to be part of the team, but play a significant part right from the beginning. We have taken some tough losses, like Duke and DePaul, but we began to bounce back. As coach says, we had some tests we had to retake. We had a chance to play DePaul again at a time when it was most important in the Big East Conference Tournament. We had a chance to play Duke at a time of most importance in the NCAA tournament. We also had a chance to prove that our win against Michigan State wasnt a fluke. That it was a legit win. So thats what she means when she says were a team of destiny. Weve gotten these second chances and taken advantage of them.

On the advantage of playing with freshmen who might not feel the Final Four pressure: Their youthfulness is great because this is their first time here. They dont know about the pressures. They dont know of the past losses. This is just a first-time thing for them. So, they just play and its great.

On the chance to give Coach Stringer here first National Championship: It felt good to have her cut down the nets at the Big East Tournament because that was her first conference championship - they didnt have the tournaments at her other schools. That was just wonderful. To top it off with a National Championship& that would just be great. Its overwhelming sometimes. I think about what I would have to say to her afterward (if we won) and my mind just goes blank.

On whether coach has changed this year: No. Coach Stringer is always going to remain the same. Speaking with the past players in December, they tell the same stories she tells now. On the court, you might feel like, I hate this woman. She can call you every possible name, insult you so much. But, its only going to make you stronger, prepare you for what others might say or what you might go through in life. And not just on the basketball court. Its like your mom would do if you were at home. Your parents try to prepare you for everything in the world. The worst thing for a parent is to see their child struggle. So, why not prepare your child before hand, so when they get out in the real world, everything seems so easy for them. Thats exactly what Coach Stringer has done this year for us. We went through the struggles in the beginning, but right now things just seem to be running so smoothly and we thank her for that.

On losing a loved one like Coach Stringer and how she helped her through it: It opens your eyes when you lose a loved one. It seems like a dark cloud hangs over your head no matter where youre working or what state you move to (in order to) start over. She showed me that throughout every struggle shes endured in her life, that theres a way to get over it and get through it. With her, basketball was a way to keep her mind off things when she wasnt at the hospital with her daughter or when she wasnt sitting at home by herself thinking about her husband. For me, basketball and music and the family atmosphere we have here helped me get through (the loss of my grandmother) even though Im not one to talk about how I feel. It was just the love of everyone. My grandmother actually passed away when Heather (Zurick) was coming in as a freshman. It was the summer before her first year. When I looked up at the funeral and Heather and her mom were right there, it was so surprising to me. Heather and I played together in high school, but we didnt have that personal relationship. So, to see her and her mom standing there in a time of need just let me know that this is definitely a family atmosphere. Through thick and thin, we will be there for each other, all 10 of us.

On defending against Candice Parker: Its going to be a team effort. Shes a great player, just as Sylvia (Fowles) was and still is. Right now, this is how we got here playing as a team. And, well leave this tournament playing as a team. We cant abandon something that has gotten us this far. To do that would make a fool of us.

On playing Tennessee tomorrow: Weve gone through every possible test this year just to arrive here and were not taking anyone on their team lightly. Theyre all great players. Everyone on their roster can get it done. Coach Summitt has done a great job over the years arriving at the Final Four year after year. So, for us, its just going to be a team effort guarding both the inside and the outside.

On Tennessees height: They are definitely a huge team. The advantage to them might be on the rebounding side, so that just means that we have to work that much harder. I wish we had their size, it would make our jobs easier, but were not going to grow six inches overnight. So we have to go with what we have and fight until the end.

Rutgers sophomore center Kia Vaughn

On what Coach Stringer means to her: She talks about how players in the past have influenced her. When I come back in five, ten, even twenty years, I want to be one of the players she talks about. I want her to tell the players years from now how I was a part of a young team that beat Tennessee in the championship game in Cleveland. We feel that she is a mother-figure and you would do anything to make her happy.

On how it feels to play against Tennessee in the championship game: This (game) is the final chapter in the season that has been a lot of fun. Playing against Tennessee is not the final chapter in my book, but I hope that it will be a good chapter that is written. I dont even care who we are playing as long as we are playing for a national championship. It is not about the name on your chest, you are just going out there with a will, and where there is a will, there is a way.

On practices during breaks: She used to have two-a-days and we would run and run and run for hours upon end. But, in the end, that made us a better team because it brought us closer together. And then she said that she wanted to shoot around, and when she said shoot-around, that meant like half of the practice. And, then again, we ran and we ran and we ran, but after it was over, we felt so much better about ourselves.

On freshmen being a big part of the team: It was really hard at the beginning of the season having so many new faces. First of all, they were offensively oriented and Coach Stringer was all about defense. They werent aware that they could make or break a team, and since they were such a big part of the team numbers wise, they had to grow up right along with us. The five of us (players who had been with Coach Stringer) knew what Coach (Stringer) is all about and we had to pass that along to the incoming players so that we could come together as a team.

On how big teammate Katie Adams is to the team: She just runs and runs for I dont know how long and it is like she has a battery in her back. She has really helped the freshman adjust to college life. When Essence and I were away with USA Basketball and Matee was injured, she was there and really helped the freshman. Even when I was a freshman, Katie was there for me and when we were running, Katie was always out in front, and as long as you stay right behind her in running drills, you knew you were going to make the time because she was always pushing you to the limit.

On head coach C. Vivian Stringer: When I first stepped on campus there was a family like atmosphere. It was one thing that really pushed me into going to Rutgers. Coach Stringer is a mother-like figure. Shes a person whos been through it all. Knows it all, basically. Shes a good role model.

On meeting Tennessee in NCAA Final: Tennessee is a great program and Pat Summitt is a great coach. I think that we are fortunate to be at this level playing for a National Championship.

On winning a title for Coach Stringer: Its been the talk since the beginning. Coach Stringer is a very special person to us and I think that it would be one of the best things that I can do in my life, so I am looking forward to it.

On evolution of team defense: I think that every year the defense has to take little steps. Last year when Cappie Pondexter and Michelle Campbell and the upperclassmen were there, at the beginning of the year I remember Coach Stringer telling us we were one of the worst defensive teams that she ever witnessed. Later on during that same year, I think that she said we were the best. Coming into this year was the same thing. Its a growth process, getting used to playing her style and then getting used to the freshmen. Basically adapting. I think its a growth process.

On Candace Parker: She can do basically everything. Were going to have to adjust a couple of things and were definitely going to have to change up our game plan from any other team because shes so versatile. You cant even really focus on Candace Parker. She has a complete team around her.

On revenge: I dont really think that you can think about it as revenge because then you get yourself carried away thinking about a lot of things and trying to get back at them. You just have to go out and play 40 minutes of hard basketball. Play great defense and be ready for whatever.

On representing New Jersey: I think that there is a sense of pride. With our football team starting it out this year having a tremendous year and now following it up by going to the Final Four. New Jersey has a lot to talk about this year.

On choosing Rutgers: Coming to Rutgers was a great atmosphere for me. Not being far from home. Playing for my home state, letting my family come right up the road to watch me play. And coach Stringer, shes just a great coach. Shes a Hall of Famer, but shes more of a mother away from home. Shes a strong person that could relate to us as women.

Matee Ajavon

On Tennessee Defense: Tennessee, theyre a pressing team. I think that they forced 29 turnovers last night against North Carolina, which really showed that they really play defense hard. Were going to have to adjust to them. Try to be smart.

On past experience helping against Tennessee in the final: Everything that weve been through isnt going to help us when we are out on the court tomorrow. Yes, its always in the back of our mind what weve been through and how far weve come, but tomorrow is just about us and Tennessee, Tennessee and us playing the best 40 minutes of our lives. The best team who makes less mistakes will win.

On the difference between Vivian Stringer on and off the court: I think that there is a fine line between Vivian Stringer being a coach and a fun person off the court. Shes serious about what she does. When shes on the court she wants to get a lot of things done and when shes off the court, shes a totally different person. She tells jokes. Shes very fun. I think that there is a big difference.

On learning life lessons from Coach Stringer: Its sinking in now, but I think it will definitely sink in when we leave college. I can already sense it. Going through adversity and challenges throughout your life, its prepared you, because you never know when youll be faced with adversity again. You have to find a way to work through it and hopefully become successful. Its a great lesson.

Epiphanny Prince

On the influence of teammate Katie Adams: Us freshmen, we call her mom. She showed us around campus when we first got there, helped us open bank accounts. She is always there to help us when we are struggling. In practice, she may expose something in my game and it helps me become more aware of what I need to work on.

On playing against former high school teammate Shannon Bobbitt: What I see now is pretty much the same player I knew in high school. She gets the entire team involved and is good on defense. One thing she has added to her game is a consistent three-point shot.

We dont talk much during the year, but we saw each other at the (Final Four) banquet and talked. We arent two people that brag much, but I am sure that when we see each other after this well bring the game up.

On why she chose Rutgers: The first time I heard about the school was an All-America camp. I wasnt going to play, but then they said Coach Stringer wanted to see me play. After that I did some research and I heard she was a nice woman. A lot of people in my neighborhood (in Brooklyn) know the game of basketball and when they heard I was looking into Rutgers they said it would be a good place for me.

I was always known as an offensive player, and Coach (Stringer) told me she could help me become a better all-around player. She is just a great person to know. When she was recruiting me, I used to call her grandma. She didnt know that until the assistant coaches told her.

On how her attending college has influenced her family: My mom and my grandma are both in college now. My grandma isnt here because she couldnt miss class. It all started when I went to get my (driving) permit. My mom didnt have hers and she said I wouldnt get mine until she had one. Then, when I was leaving for school this summer, she said guess what, I am going to college. I am not going to let you graduate from college before I do.

On her game-winning basket vs. Duke: When I took the shot, I simply saw a one-on-one opportunity. Then, when I was with my teammates later and we were watching the highlights, I thought to myself, what was I thinking.

On her reaction to being locked out of the teams locker room: I didnt know how to react. I was pretty mad. But in the end it was good because it brought us closer together. Each day we would show up to practice and didnt know what to expect. But whatever was in store for us, we at least knew we would be going through in together. Our goal was to get our locker room back and we knew we couldnt do that until we played as a team.

On adjusting to Rutgers defensive style of play: It was very hard for me because when I came in I wasnt known for my defense. I had to adjust to both the mental and physical side of it.

On preparing for Tennessee: I think we just need to play our normal defensive game. We need to know who their go-to players are. Our coaches do a great job with the scout and tell us there is no reason to be intimidated.

On being a go-to player as a freshman: I think a lot of what I went through in high school, being on a successful team, has prepared me for this level. I was the go-to player in high school, but I came in here not thinking that I had to carry the team and I could just do whatever was needed.

Matee (Ajavon) and Essence (Carson) have done a lot to try and make me feel comfortable. They know to get me a shot early on so I can get into the game.

On playing in the National Championship game: I am very excited. It was my ultimate goal when I came to college. I am very blessed and honored to be playing in the game tomorrow.

Heather Zurich

On getting kicked out of the locker room and getting their gear taken away, etc., in December: I think that had a huge impact on us. I had never experienced anything like that before. It was an interesting situation. We didnt have our practice gear, we didnt have anything for like a month. Basically I think it just brought us together as a team. I think we were playing very offensive-minded and playing as individuals in the beginning. Coach basically wanted to strip us of everything we had and everything that was given to us and make us earn it back.

I definitely think that had a big effect on how we started stepping up and playing defense and just working together as a team, trusting each other and believing in ourselves.

Coach told us if we werent going to play as a team we were going to have to wear our individual clothes. We knew what she was thinking, we knew her message behind that and we started working hard on the court and bonded together off the court in that month and that really brought us together. We didnt want to play as individuals and we didnt just want to be an offensive-minded team. We know Coach (Stringer) is a defensive coach and really helped us bond together.

On evolution of the defense: In the beginning, she (Coach Stringer) told us we were the worst defensive team ever and I think we really took that to heart. We didnt want to be considered the worst defensive team she ever coached. So when we understood that, we bought into the defense. Because in the beginning we were putting 80 points on the board the other team would score 81 so it didnt make a difference - we were losing games because of defense. Once we really trusted that defense could win games and bought into the defensive concepts, that really helped us.

At the beginning of the season, we didnt trust the fact that defense could win - we had people who could score so we didnt buy into it. But we lost games and then we trusted in Coach Stringer. And then started winning and were playing here for a championship.

On winning championship game for Coach Stringer: We dont really talk about it that much, but everybody has it in their mind and in their hearts that we really want to do this for her. Coach has never had a national championship so that would mean so much to her so thats basically why were playing - we want to do it for her.

On what makes this team different from other Rutgers teams that Stringer has coached: Essence (Carson) touched on it a little bit. We believe in ourselves so much. We dont have one, go-to player. Everybody can score, everybody can put the ball in the hoop. That really makes us different and hard to guard sometimes - they cant focus on just one person. Everyone can contribute and make a difference. And we trust each other. Im not saying we didnt trust each other last year, but we bonded together really, really strong this year and we trust each other on the court. We have each others back on defense so we know that if someone gets beat, someone is going to step in and help you.

-Courtesy Wisconsin