The guard has become a quintessential part of Ohio’s roster this season. She’s earned seven starts in her first season and routinely shatters her own career highs. Though her primary role is as a bench player, Felder can fill spots in the starting lineup when needed.
“I know I have to step up and do what I have to do,” Felder said.
It’s a role she’s grown into. Before she came to Ohio, Felder was often the most dominant player on the court. She began her basketball career at the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut, on a team of all boys. Her talents impressed her recreation coach, who then recommended her to the coach of CT Heights, a local Amateur Athletic Union team. Felder joined the program and played there until her junior year of high school.
She didn’t stop there, though. Felder’s talent flourished while she played at Conard High School. She was Conard’s strongest player and made a place for herself in the record books. By the time she graduated, Felder was Conard’s all-time leading scorer with 1,438 career points.
After graduation, Felder made her way to Athens to attend a school over 10 hours away from her hometown. She was nervous to join the Bobcats. The transition from high school to college basketball was stark, but Felder dove in and got to work. She took extra practice shots and listened to her teammates’ advice to build her confidence.
Her work has paid off. Whether starting or not, Felder has brought talent to the table. She has scored in all but two appearances this season and reached double figures five times.
Felder understands her role within the team. It's her job to come into the game level-headed no matter the situation. She knows that in that role, she’s able to learn from Ohio veterans like Cece Hooks. In fact, Felder looks up to Hooks. She looks up to all of her teammates and knows they’ll always be there to give her advice.
“Everyone is so helpful,” Felder said. “Whenever I have a question, they’re always there. If I mess up, they make sure I get it right the next time.”
The guard has been thrown into situations that freshmen don’t usually experience. Many of the Bobcats have been sidelined due to injury or COVID-19 protocols this season, and Felder is often thrown into the fire as a result. She’s had to start in place of Hooks and other usual starters when the lineup runs thin.
But Felder takes the role in stride.
Felder broke into her own when Ohio visited Northern Illinois in early February. She was placed in the starting lineup after Kaylee Bambule and Gabby Burris were forced to sit out due to COVID-19 protocols. Despite fouling out in the fourth quarter, Felder reached a then-career high of 16 points.
Once again, Felder had to adjust to something new. She played the game in a different position than she is used to, but that didn’t phase her. Felder learned fast, and the encouragement from the rest of the Bobcats made it easier. They’d feed her advice as they ran down the court.
Felder set two more personal records within the same week. She snagged nine rebounds and notched five steals against Western Michigan on Feb. 12. The next week, she set a new career high when she scored 20 points against Eastern Michigan while Erica Johnson was out of the lineup.
Her speed gives her an advantage. Felder is quick on her feet and often beats opponents to the ball. She has no fear and will dive onto the ground without hesitation. Speed has never been an issue for her, though.
“I’ve just always been fast. When I was younger, I did track and I broke records. I’ve just always been fast." —Yaya Felder
Felder is not just fast on her feet. She’s a quick study, too. She’s had to play a variety of roles this season and fill in for some of the Bobcats’ best players. Coach Bob Boldon recognizes that.
“We’ve started her in place of Gabby, we’ve started her in place of Kaylee, we’ve started her in place of (Cece), we’ve started her in place of Erica and then we’ve not started her,” Boldon said. “That’s a lot for a freshman to take on, and she deserves to be commended for the way that she’s handled it.”
That’s the role Felder has had to play this season, though, and she fills it well. No matter what spot she fills, Felder can adjust on the fly. Despite being in just her first season with the Bobcats, Felder has developed into one of the most versatile players on the roster.