Alyssa Synakowski @synakowsk
Las Vegas was the city of stolen dreams for Wolverine athletics fans this year. Utah Valley women’s basketball had to pack its bags after the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament to return home to Orem following a disappointing 65-63 overtime loss to Bakersfield.
The mental growth of the players was evident early on in the game, and all the memories of playing and losing 66-51 to Bakersfield just four days prior to the contest had been erased.
Sam Loggins had the game of her career by scoring 28 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Rhaiah Spooner-Knight added 10 points and 17 rebounds, a new career-high.
The Wolverines, 7-23 for the year and 4-12 in conference play, showed remarkable growth on the season in somewhat of a rebuilding year.
It was a team that came into the season in a new conference, without former Great West Conference two-time Player of the Year Sammie Jensen, and had six incoming freshmen to add to an overall inexperienced team.
UVU had multiple hard-fought battles, losing 13 games by 10 points or less and eight games by four points or less.
Coach Cathy Nixon saw the losses as a good thing for her young team.
“Overall, those experiences and those games I think will be for our better,” she said. “The girls, this year, did use them I think to get better and to learn.”
Katie Kuklok, a sophomore transfer, played her first minutes with the team this year and shot 93 percent from the free-throw line and 43 percent behind the arc for 16 points per game.
Kuklok was plagued by injuries and played limited minutes in some games, leaving the team without her shooting capabilities.
In mid-February, UVU was finally able to get its starting lineup healthy and playing together. The result was three back-to-back WAC wins, including a victory in Las Cruces against New Mexico State.
“We were getting experience and the girls learned how to win those games,” Nixon said. “Another factor that came into play was we had a little more healthy of a team. That was the first time we had our starting five together and healthy. It just took some time.”
Freshmen experienced increased playing time, albeit with significant responsibility on their shoulders. Sophomores who were on the team the prior year but weren’t necessarily heavily involved in game plans also had to step up.
Loggins, a 6-foot-5 sophomore center, appeared in 23 games in her freshman year and logged 6 minutes a game. She struggled early in the season to use her size as an advantage over smaller opponents.
As the season progressed, Loggins began to become more assertive in the paint, backing up defenders while on offense and calling for the ball.
“It’s so satisfying for me to see her put it all together really at the best time,” Nixon said. “That was one of the highlights of my coaching career in terms of watching a player come to her potential. Sam came in here raw but she was able to learn.”
Nixon attributes Loggins’ stellar improvement to Loggins working with the strength and conditioning coach over the summer and putting in extra hours throughout the season to get better.
Which led up to her monster performance against Bakersfield to end the season.
With the 2013-14 season over, fans can now look back at the growth of UVU’s team and become excited for the future of a team that has both youth and experience. There is no ceiling for this group of student-athletes.