COLUMBIA — Denise Rosario, a senior center for the Columbia College women’s basketball team, plays as if she fought her way onto the court.
The native Brazilian stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall and rarely goes unnoticed. Rosario towers over defenders and attacks the lane with brute force. Watching Rosario drive to the basket is like watching a lion attack a herd of antelope. But when she gets there, she has the ability to deftly place the ball into the hoop.
The Cougars will be counting on Denise Rosario's intensity while playing William Woods University in the AMC Championship game at 7 p.m. Monday in the Arena at Southwell Complex. The Cougars beat William Woods 80-73 on Feb. 26 in their final conference game.
“Denise’s size is so imposing, and at the same time she is a highly skilled player,” Columbia College head coach Mike Davis said. "I can’t say enough about how good of a job she has done for us.”
Rosario's aggressive play on both offense and defense has been a big part of the Cougars' 16-0 record in the American Midwest Conference this season. She averaged 10 points and four rebounds a game during the regular season.
"Anytime she comes off the bench, I know she’ll be a burst of energy,” forward Amanda Phillips said. "She has so much offensive and defensive ability that teams aren’t prepared when she comes into the game.”
Preparing for her talent is one thing, but when Rosario comes down with a rebound, her elbows go flying in every direction. It can catch opponents (and her own teammates) off guard.
"In practice I’ve actually gotten pretty good at dodging them," Phillips said. "I remember last year I had gotten a few elbows right in the face, then you just learn to duck and dodge. I think I look out for her elbows more than anything because they are vicious."
Her opponents haven't been so fortunate. Stephens College forward Megan Sheffield fell to the ground screaming in pain after Rosario elbowed her in the neck during their Feb. 12 game. Sheffield missed the remainder of the first half, and Rosario was called for a technical foul.
Rosario, the second youngest of 11 children, would often play against her older siblings.
“I have five brothers and five sisters, and we all play sports,” she said. "We would always get teams together and play around the house. We had to be aggressive to play."
The Cougars will miss her intensity and interior presence next year. Rosario will return to Brazil when she graduates in May.
"I want to be back home," Rosario said. "I just enjoy my family and being with my friends.”