Savickaite brings presence to Lady Topper post

Freshman center Ruta Savickaite, of Vinius, Lithuania, waves her jersey as she is introduced at Hilltopper Hysteria Saturday, Oct. 19.

Kyle Williams

The WKU Lady Topper basketball team, coming off a 22-win season and a berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, returns all five starters from last year to go along with seven new faces this season.

One of those unfamiliar faces, freshman center Ruta Savickaite, won’t just be representing WKU by gearing up in the red and white.

Savickaite, who was born and raised in Vinius, Lithuania, said on Media Day that she was excited to represent not only WKU but Lithuania as well.

The 6-foot-4-inch center has represented her home country of Lithuania in the 2011 Under-16 and 2012 Under-18 European National Championships.

However, she wasn’t reluctant in regards to showing love for her new home of Bowling Green.

“I love it,” Savickaite said. “I love the teams, I love the coaches, the staff — everything. I’m in love with this school.”

Savickaite came overseas in January of 2012 and attended Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn. It took time for her to adjust to the American style of play, but in her final nine high school games, she logged 7.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and an impressive 2.1 steals per game at the center position.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said the Lady Toppers are lucky to have Savickaite and that she’s a joy to coach because of her will to improve.

“We’re very fortunate that we had a chance to get Ruta,” Heard said. “She’s a typical international player — she loves to face up, and she loves to shoot the basketball…I think the sky is the limit for her.”

Heard said she’s been impressed with Savickaite’s attitude.

“The greatest thing about Ruta is she wants to be good,” Heard said. “She comes in each and every day and asks questions and wants to get better. That’s one of the things you love as a coach.”

It didn’t take long for the 18-year-old sports management major to turn heads at Hilltopper Hysteria, the annual event to kick off basketball season. Savickaite recorded the first seven points for the white team and totaled eight during the 20-minute scrimmage.

Savickaite said playing in front of the Lady Topper faithful was an energizing experience, and she needs to bring that energy when she suits up for the Lady Toppers this season.

“I just did what I could,” Savickaite said. “…We just had fun that night. I was hyped because it was the first time for myself to be in front of that big crowd.

“My goal is to help the team as much as I can in the post…our goals as post players is to bring energy to the post and rebound, block and score.”

The Lady Toppers will benefit from the added height to this year’s team in the form of Savickaite and 6-foot-3-inch freshman forward Bria Gaines. Junior forward Chastity Gooch, who is just six-feet tall, was the tallest Lady Topper last season.

WKU opens its season in Diddle Arena on Nov. 9 against Austin Peay.