Ciaja Harbison standing out early in career

Monica Ryan

Ciaja Harbison is, in some ways, much like a lot of college freshmen at SLU and across the nation. She has a strong connection to her family, has had trouble adjusting to the new college lifestyle and loves to dance with her closest friends. What separates her from the rest of the pack is a strong 3-point shot, jaw dropping handles and all of her best friends are also her teammates.

The freshman point guard has started all six of her college games thus far and is proving herself to be a vital member of the young Billiken squad. The native of Louisville, Kentucky already has a signature moment in Billiken lore, providing consecutive threes to tie and take the lead in an upset win over the University of Virginia Cavaliers.

The Male High School alumni has been a notable bright point for a Billiken team who has been going through some early season growing pains. But being a starter in her first year hasn’t come without its challenges. “The tempo of the game changes, it’s a lot faster, the girls are a lot stronger, smarter,” Harbison said. But to an uninformed observer you’d be hard pressed to see her affected in any drastic way as she leads the team in minutes played, steals and assists. Harbison also praises her coaches and the team as a whole as a calming influence on her transition to the team. “(Coach Stone) always preaches we versus me, we play as a team, it’s been so much fun,” she said.

Harbison comes from a basketball family, with her dad being a JUCO player in his college days and her younger sister right behind. She has been in love with basketball since she was a baby and couldn’t get enough of it in her time before SLU, not only playing for her high school team but travelling extensively with her AAU team. The high school standout was ranked as the 90th best prospect in the nation in her senior year and she earned a second team all-state accolade.

What truly puts Harbison above the rest is her dedication to her academics. Harbison has one of the most unique majors of all of the athletes in the school. She is a nuclear medicine technology major and accredits her love of science and her opportunity to shadow a friend of her father’s, who works in the healthcare industry, as to why she came to this line of study. While this is an unusual path for some student athletes, for Harbison it only makes sense. She has a track record of academic success, as she was awarded the Donna L. J. Murphy award in high school for her accomplishments on the court and in the classroom.

The rookie point guard is looking forward to leading her team into conference play, knowing that it’s going to be tough but that the team is ready for the challenge. The Billiken women have a unique opportunity coming up before conference season opens. Few teams have been as dominate as the UConn women’s basketball team in the last two decades and they come to visit Chaifetz Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 4. Harbison knows how big of an opportunity for the team this is and believes in her squad. “I’m really excited, we’re going to have a huge crowd, which will be a real first for me,” Harbison said. “But we’re going to come out ready and play them tough, were ready for them.” Very few freshmen get the opportunity to impact a program in as large a capacity as Harbison has already done. It is an opportunity that she is not wasting. You can catch Harbison and her teammates next when they take on Southern Illinois tonight at 7 p.m. Next, they host the SIUE Cougars Saturday, Dec. 1.

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