The Great West Conference is in the rearview mirror. Next stop: the Western Athletic Conference.
“We talked to the girls and told them that the bar is being raised,” said UVU women’s basketball Head Coach Cathy Nixon. “It’s being raised for all of us and our job as coaches is to prepare ourselves for that level of competition. Fortunately, much of it is very familiar to us. We have played all of the teams that will be in the WAC except for Kansas City. That’s one of the things I tried to do in scheduling is to help us prepare for that transition because I believed that was going to happen.”
The competition will be similar to the competition they faced in the GWC. Most of those teams have also joined the WAC. NJIT and Houston are the two teams from the GWC that won’t be joining the Wolverines. What appealed most to UVU was the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. For those who don’t understand, picture this: The Wolverines could be in the Men’s and Women’s NCAA tournament next season. It doesn’t take much to see how valuable the WAC will mean to the UVU athletic department.
Getting teams to visit the UCCU center hasn’t been easy, but teams will be more willing to come here to play a WAC opponent.
“Scheduling will still be somewhat of a challenge,” Nixon said. “Absolutely though, it will be easier. It started when we first went Division One. I had to schedule all 29 games because we were independent. That was very challenging. As few teams as there were in the Great West this year it was challenging because you can only play so many games in November and December to try and balance out a short conference schedule.”
One thing that will be less challenging is recruiting. For years, the Wolverines have recruited a large portion of their players from the JC ranks. Now that the Wolverines are affiliated with the WAC, they should be able to receive more commitments from high school players.
“All the players we have recruited so far committed before the WAC commitment,” Nixon said. “I think the WAC will absolutely have an effect in spite of that because of the strengths of our program.”
Coach Nixon and the other coaches will hit the recruiting trail later this spring, and during the month of July to fill out a couple roster spots. They have a few players in mind and are hopeful to receive their LOI’s (letters of intent) before the summer. These players would have the opportunity to play immediately.
“We lose a lot of kids,” Nixon said. “We are losing eight players from our program. Anytime you take away a core of kids, that’s a major portion of our starters and minutes. It’s going to take us some time to get together, although we have some returning players and some players redshirting and practicing, it doesn’t matter. It’s a whole different thing when it’s for real and you’re playing games. The hardest thing will be gelling as a team and finding an identity.”
The WAC awaits, and there is no turning back now.