The Robert Morris women’s basketball program has undergone its fair share of changes over the past year. Over the summer, the team was one of many sports programs at the university to switch from the Northeast Conference to the Horizon League. Another significant change was the departure of Nneka Ezeigbo, due to graduation, and Irekpitan Ozzy-Momodu, who transferred to Eastern Michigan. Both of these losses left the Colonials without a key presence in the paint for this season.
What didn’t change was RMU’s international recruiting, a tactic that has allowed the team to be in the NEC title picture for roughly a decade, and one that they hope grants them success in the Horizon League. This strategy also took them to Rio Colorado, Argentina, home of 6-foot-1 forward Sol Castro.
Before Castro was capturing Horizon League Freshman of the Week honors, her parents’ request to find a hobby outside of sports led her to a different sport.
“When I was four or five years old, I did gymnastics. But then I got bored,” said Castro. “So then, when I was seven or eight years old, I started playing basketball.”
It wasn’t hard for a native of Argentina to chase a dream of playing basketball on a larger stage. Two Argentinian natives, Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, played in the NBA and were major influences for Castro and her basketball aspirations.
Castro found herself on a championship winning team, Club Atlético Lanus, and grew as a player individually as well. She was so impressive, in fact, that she was selected as a member of Argentina’s FIBA U18, U19 and Senior teams.
“One of the most amazing things, before I came here, was the youth olympic team,” said Castro. “That was a really huge thing for me.”
Following a 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup run that saw her average six points and six rebounds per game, Castro focused on one of her main goals: playing college basketball in America. That dream was fulfilled when RMU head coach Charlie Buscaglia targeted Castro as a recruit.
“She wants to be much better in every area, and that’s what we recruit,” said Buscaglia. “We recruit prospects that want to be student athletes, and that’s why she matched up so well with us and that’s why she really wanted to come over.”
Castro showed similar excitement about attending RMU. The culture of the program, the coaches, and the hard work and dedication to succeeding that everyone displayed made her confident that RMU was the right choice for her future. An added bonus was the opportunity for her to be a key piece of the puzzle as the team prepared to make the jump to the Horizon League.
“That was something that gets me excited,” said Castro. “I knew that the team was growing up, so I wanted to be a part of that.”
Even with the global pandemic altering recruitment, Buscaglia remained confident that Castro would attend RMU. The Colonials’ head coach even mentioned that recruiting Castro was easier than recruiting some American players during the pandemic.
“We were pretty deep into things before the pandemic shut us down,” he remarked. “We had really developed a relationship together, that there was a real connection for her to want to be here and come.”
While Castro missed out on the opportunity to visit Robert Morris and get a feel for the program and campus, she was impressed by the culture of the program and the coaching staff over the video calls they shared.
“The program, my teammates, and my coaches were the case for me coming to RMU,” said Castro.
Adjusting to a new culture and a language barrier is to be expected when playing in a completely different country. The biggest challenge that Castro faces is related to the pandemic, saying that the feeling of uncertainty, in regards to games, is difficult mentally.
“We are waiting every weekend,” said Castro. “You don’t know if you are going to play until the moment that you are doing the [jumpball]. You have to be really positive.”
Castro has adjusted well to the other aforementioned changes. That is, in large part, thanks to her Spanish-speaking teammates. Yasmine Sifaoui, a native of Madrid, Spain, lives with Castro and has made her feel more comfortable in their new home.
“We both speak in Spanish, so we are really close,” stated Castro. “We support each other because it was a really huge deal to come here.”
Roadblocks might have stood in her way before she even set foot on American soil, but Castro has begun to find her footing as a member of the Colonials. This past weekend, Robert Morris hosted Wright State, a team that lost one conference game all season, and had just swept the Colonials the weekend prior. Not only did RMU top the Raiders, but they did so thanks to outstanding efforts from Castro.
On Friday, she registered her first collegiate double-double by scoring 23 points and hauling in 11 rebounds. Saturday’s game featured another dominant performance, as she tallied 20 points with five rebounds in a winning effort.
“I have been working on everything since I came here. I have really been working [on] my shot with an assistant, Coach Morita,” said Castro.
And it was clear that the hard work had paid off.
She commanded the paint in a way that was reminiscent of the ways that Ezeigbo and Ozzy-Momodu did in seasons past. Not only did Castro’s play remind Coach Buscaglia of the two former Colonials, some key characteristics of hers did too.
“Her work ethic is that she wants to go beyond the standard. She wants to go to a higher standard,” said Buscaglia. “That’s why she’s doing well here and that’s why she has been able to transition in well. She’s got a very humble mentality, and that’s our top pillar.”
As the Colonials find more rhythm, Castro hopes that she can be an intrical part of the team’s success not only this year, but for seasons to come.