On Nov. 22, Bradley women’s basketball was tied with NAIA member Missouri Baptist with 7:15 left in the game. It had been a back-and-forth affair up to that point against a team that the Braves were projected to beat handedly.
Then Veronika Roberts subbed in.
Once the senior forward checked into the game, the Braves delivered a 14-2 run to finally break things open, eventually cruising to a 66-46 win. It was a team effort spearheaded by Roberts’ impact on the court and from the bench.
“She got a lot of rebounds, she kept the ball alive, she did all the little things that you need to do to win games,” head coach Kate Popovec-Goss said after the team’s win. “I think her teammates really fed off of that with her so I thought she really contributed.”
Under the nickname “Roni,” Roberts has quickly become the vocal leader the newly-constructed team needs. As the only senior, she has the most experience on a Braves roster that lacks it after losing four starters and featuring just one returning player averaging more than 15 minutes per game a year ago.
“She’s the most vocal person at all times,” sophomore guard Alex Rouse said. “Whether she’s on the court or just on the sidelines, she’s always vocal. She’s always helping us and encouraging us in a good way.”
This leadership is seen by her head coach, who rewarded Roberts by naming her a captain of this season’s team.
“Roni doesn’t have a big ego,” Popovec-Goss said. “She doesn’t care how many points she scores, she doesn’t care what her role is, she just wants to have a role on the team that makes sense and is best for the team.”
Even with limited time, Roberts has made a big impact. Using only 11 minutes against Missouri Baptist, Roberts picked up four rebounds, an assist and a steal, with one of each coming during the game-ending run. She also tied the team lead in offensive rebounds.
Fast forward to Tuesday’s game against Kansas City where she made her presence felt in just six minutes, taking a charge late in the third quarter to prevent a Roos’ run from forming. In the Braves’ other win against McNeese State, she scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in just 10 minutes – including a crucial offensive board that she passed to an open 3-pointer that gave her team the lead.
More than that, Popovec-Goss credits Roberts as being the team’s best screener and the leader in practice. She may not stuff the box score, but she certainly makes all of her moments count.
“She’s had an opportunity to have a great role off the bench,” Popovec-Goss said. “She just plays smart, she plays tough. Maybe what she does doesn’t jump off a stat sheet but it jumps off the page to us.”
Hailing from Indianapolis, Roberts came to Bradley off of a successful high school campaign that earned her all-conference and all-county honors as a junior and a senior. She was a part of two sectional championship and two county championship teams.
The success transferred right away in college, as Roberts put up a double-double in only her third career game while averaging 10.6 rebounds per 40 minutes in her first two seasons. She went from captain in her senior year of high school to captain in her senior year of college, showing that leadership has always been in her DNA.
“Coming into college I knew that I was vocal,” Roberts said. “But I think this year it’s really flourishing and I think that I’m really stepping into that role well with being a great communicator and helping all the young girls out on what to do and how it works and building a culture.”
Although Andrea Gorski, the head coach who recruited her, is no longer here, Roberts does not regret her decision to come to the Hilltop – even with so many changes this past offseason.
“I really liked how nice everyone was and how they really got me to buy in and see what Bradley’s about,” Roberts said. “I chose to come here for the relationships and the coaches and even with the new coaching staff it’s still the same.”
As one of the new faces on the team, Rouse, who is coming off back-to-back double-digit point performances, thinks that Roberts’ leadership has been invaluable to her and the rest of the Braves’ transfers.
“She’s really encouraging,” Rouse said. “Maybe like we’re having a bad shooting day or things just aren’t going right, she’ll encourage us and tell us it’s okay. Just get better, just keep working.”
Not only is Roberts a leader on the court, but she’s also a standout in the Peoria community. Over the summer she was a public health intern for the Peoria Friendship House, a local non-profit organization that works to improve all aspects of the community’s lives and hosts events such as free dinners, a shoe drive and a back-to-school event, where she brought the team to volunteer.
“Getting out into the community and being able to help others is something that I love and this was a great experience,” Roberts said.
With the help of former Braves like Chelsea Brackmann and Amber Bozeman, Roberts has honed her leadership skills in the hopes of inspiring the next group of players.
“From my freshman year I had a really good senior class that showed really good leadership,” Roberts said. “How they were to me is how I want to be for the younger girls on our team, and that they can see that and take the leadership and use it for when they’re juniors and seniors helping out the freshmen in a few years.”
If Bradley hopes to have success on the court, they’ll need to lean on their leader Roni.
“I’m super proud of our team and our continued growth and I think Roni is going to be a big part of how we continue to develop,” Popovec-Goss said. “She’s a great kid.”