The Utah Valley women’s basketball season may have just barely come to a close, but it’s never too early to look ahead at next year, especially when the team is expected to return the entire roster barring any offseason transfers.
The Wolverines’ season came to an unceremonious end in #WACVegas at the hands of regular season and conference tournament champions Stephen F. Austin, who were heads and tails above the competition just about the entire year. The Ladyjacks lost just once since mid-December and won 19 of their last 21 games by double-digits.
“Since UVU has joined the WAC this is the first time we have had back-to-back winning seasons,” said head coach Dan Nielson. “If you look at the top of the league they’re graduating a lot, if not most of their scoring and we return everybody, so I think that’s exciting. I think that that’s what we gotta look toward because we wanna be where Stephen F Austin is next year.”
While the Ladyjacks ran away with the WAC in 2021-22, next season could be a different story, with SFA and many of the other top teams in the conference graduating many of their top players.
Starting with the Ladyjacks, they will be graduating five seniors, including three All-WAC honorees in Stephanie Visscher, Brianna Mitchell and Aiyana Johnson. SFA does return Zya Nugent, who was an All-WAC honoree and was named WAC Tournament MVP.
Second place Grand Canyon is graduating six seniors and will be looking to reload in the offseason. The Lopes were a team the Wolverines matched up well with this season, with UVU winning the road tilt 58-50 and falling in the home matchup 65-63.
Third place California Baptist has had the Wolverines’ number in the Lancers’ first four seasons in the WAC, with UVU winning just one out of eight matchups and losing by an average of 18.3 points in the losses. CBU graduates four seniors, including WAC Defensive Player of the Year Ane Olaeta, but reigning WAC Player of the Year Caitlyn Harper will be a thorn in the side for WAC teams for another two years. The Lancers will also be in their first year of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament following their transition from Division II.
The Wolverines were plagued by injuries down the home stretch of the season, with key rotation pieces Babalu Stewart, Tahlia White and Shay Fano missing the last few weeks of the season. Despite that, the Wolverines finished the season playing their best basketball and won 12 of their last 17 games.
The Wolverines struggled to gain any rhythm heading into conference play due in part to a road-heavy non-conference schedule and a COVID pause at the end of December. UVU had a stretch of six weeks without a home game between Dec. 1 and Jan. 15, during which the Wolverines went just 1-6. The Wolverines finally gained some consistency when they got back in the friendly confines of the Lockhart Arena and the UCCU Center.
Next season, UVU will likely be one of, if not the most experienced team in the WAC. All-WAC honorees Josie Williams and Maria Carvalho will be returning for their senior seasons, along with Madison Grange, who emerged as a reliable third option on offense in the back half of the season. Kayla Anderson and Stewart round out the senior class.
Williams is one of the most dominant centers in the country, finishing the season tied for third in the nation in double-doubles and averaging 17.3 PPG and 12.4 RPG, both career bests. Carvalho was one of the top scorers in the conference at 13.6 PPG and was a workhorse running the point, averaging the second-most minutes per game at 36.1. Grange established herself as a scoring threat as the season went along, scoring in double figures in 12 out of 18 conference games.
If the Wolverines want to challenge for the WAC regular-season and tournament championships, they’ll need repeated success from their All-WAC performers, as well as a consistent third scoring threat to emerge to round out the offense. The Wolverines have plenty of weapons on the roster, it’s just a matter of which one will step up and fill that role each night.
The offseason should be an interesting one for the Wolverines as they attempt to build off the late-season success and get everyone back to full strength. One thing is certain with this team under Dan Nielson– this team is headed in the right direction. UVU posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time in 13 years.
The Wolverines are also starting to compete for some of the top prep recruits in the state, signing Davis High’s Kylee Mabry in the 2022 recruiting class in addition to a host of former All-State honorees on the current roster.
On paper, the 2022-23 UVU women’s basketball team should be the best in school history and be in the hunt to contend for the WAC title. We’ve still got a long way to go till November, but Nielson’s team should be poised for a season to remember.
Senior Staff Writer
Nathan is a senior studying Communications. In addition to covering UVU athletics for The Review, Nathan also covers BYU athletics for ESPN 960. Nathan hails from the Bay Area in California, and keeps tabs on the Giants, 49ers, and Warriors in his spare time.