WAC media day came and went, and now the Wolverines will attempt to venture into this season without the best player the women’s program has ever had, Sammie Jensen.
“We definitely will be a different a team,” head coach Cathy Nixon said. “Just in terms of our philosophy and strengths. For the last three years we built a lot of what we did around Sammie on both ends of the floor. We’re excited about the mark that Sammie left on our program, and we hope that we can carry on what she provided for us.”
Even without the services of Jensen, UVU was picked to finish fourth by the media and sixth by opposing coaches in the WAC preseason polls.
Jensen isn’t the only departing player who played a large role on last year’s team. Kaycee Mansfield, Cydne Gray and Alle Finch Cardwell will be missed as well. Those four players started a combined 237 games for the Wolverines.
This year’s squad only returns five players who have played for UVU before, and one of those five didn’t log a second of game time last season.
“With Whitney Jenkins, Ashley Klemz, Sam Loggins and Tina Doughty, we will need them to mature quickly,” Nixon said. “We’re going to call on them as well as the girls who redshirted. Although they weren’t playing last year, they did participate in practice.”
Kyra Prause, who redshirted last season with a hamstring injury, returns as a fifth-year senior. She is capable of playing lock down defense and because of that she will likely be assigned to guard the opponent’s best offensive player. Prause is a two-way player. She has good touch around the rim and can stretch the floor with her outside shooting. The Wolverines are lucky to have such a versatile player returning during a year where experience runs thin.
“Kyra brings great energy,” Nixon said. “She’s very aggressive, athletic, and quick defensively and she has a lot of tools on the offensive end. I think she’s a much better player now than before she got hurt.”
Jenkins and Doughty are the two returning players from last season that played large roles. Jenkins started every game as a junior and Doughty was second on the team in scoring with 10.4 points per game. Doughty is poised to become the team’s leading scorer, and she will have the ball in her hands in late game situations. She can score from anywhere on the floor. If she can prove herself defensively, she has an outside shot at winning conference player of the year. Doughty was selected to the WAC preseason second team by the media.
Jenkins is the team leader. Her teammates and coaches both love her work ethic and versatility. She is a good defender and a strong offensive player as well. Her only weak spot is the long ball. She shot 21 percent from three-point range last season. If she can become a threat from the land of plenty she and Doughty could become one of the most feared guard tandems in the WAC.
Klemz and Loggins round out the returning players. Klemz was the backup point guard behind Cydne Gray and she will likely start as the point guard this year, though redshirt freshman Georgia Agnew is pushing her for that starting job. Klemz is fast with the basketball and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger when she has an open look. Last season she made 30 percent of her three point attempts. The Wolverines will need Klemz or Agnew to step up and run the team this year.
Loggins is the type of player that UVU hasn’t had in quite some time. The sophomore from Idaho is six-foot-five. She played sparingly last season, but those days of limited minutes are gone. She will start at center and has a chance to be a game-changer for the Wolverines. She has a soft touch around the rim and is an above average shot blocker. She only averaged six minutes a game last year so foul trouble and fatigue will be the only things that stand in between her and a breakout season.
The newcomers include Karlee Kartchner, Ashley Baugh, Georgia Agnew, Makaily Worthington, Rebecca MaWhinney, Mika Pinner, Katie Kuklok and Rhaia Spooner-Knight.
Georgia Agnew, one of two players from New Zealand, was going to be the backup point guard before a strong summer and fall camp. She is neck-and-neck with Klemz for the starting point guard job. If she doesn’t start, UVU will look to her to run the second unit. That unit will also feature Kuklok and Kartchner. Kuklok has been shooting lights out in fall practice so far. She will be asked to help spread the floor when the Wolverines go with a smaller lineup.
“Our team this year will have a different look to it,” Nixon said. “We lost some of our key players from last season. We are seeing how we can mesh our returning kids with the redshirts we have. We’ve had a good preseason so far. We will need every practice remaining to get ready for the season.”
The Wolverines have the players to make a run at the WAC title. Jensen, Doughty, and Prause are arguably as good as any players in the conference. Depth, experience and the lack of a true power forward are likely the only factors that would stand in the way of a top conference finish.
Seattle University is the WAC preseason favorite. The Redhawks won the regular season championship last year before losing to Idaho in the conference tournament. They have three returning players that can all score the basketball. They also have the preseason player of the year in Kacie Sowell. She had 23 double-doubles last season.
Idaho was picked second by the media. The Vandals had a miraculous finish to last season. They upset Seattle en route to winning the WAC tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, they met powerhouse UCONN in the first round. Idaho only lost three players from last year’s team and is loaded with experience.
The Aggies of New Mexico State were picked third. Their program is improving at a rapid rate. They won twice as many games last year as they did the previous season. The Aggies will expect big things from sophomore guard Sasha Weber, who had a stellar freshman campaign, averaging 9.0 points per game.
UVU was picked fourth by the media. Considering how many contributors left the program last season this is a good spot to be in. It will be interesting to see how the new coaching staff gels with the players. Former assistant coach Dan Nielsen left for BYU and the coaches who replaced him are Jason Glover and Walt Hopkins. Both of them came from the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA. Glover has coached in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has 28 years of coaching experience.
Bakersfield, Kansas City, Texas Pan-American, Grand Canyon and Chicago State round out the bottom half of the preseason media picks. Grand Canyon is an interesting addition to the conference. The Antelopes were a dominant team at the Division II level and could very easily finish higher than their preseason ranking.
WAC play begins Jan. 4 for the Wolverines. Their first game of the year is Nov. 1 against Adams State.