Women’s basketball enters 2010-11 season with a winning momentum from last season’s Great West Conference championship. Jake Buntjer/UVU Review

Fresh off a winning season, the Great West Conference Champion lady Wolverines will kick off the basketball season this week.

After entering the GWC tournament last season as the sixth out of seven seeds and then coming from behind to take the championship, the lady Wolverines are ready to begin a new season with the winning momentum they gained last March.

“I think we still are feeling that momentum from that tournament, I really do believe that,” said Coach Cathy Nixon.
“We felt that through our spring training and in the summer. And I think in the fall we felt that success that we’d had then. And it has definitely left a desire for us to repeat that, but I think, really, just gave the returning kids a little bit of a boost of confidence.”

Nixon’s team lost four seniors last season, but with eight returning players, two junior college transfers and three true freshmen, Nixon is confident in this season’s team.

“Obviously having Blake [Reynolds] and Julie [Smith], Asumi [Nakayama] and Kayla [Burningham] leave, that’s a loss to our team. That’s basically our leadership, our leading scorer and our point guard,” Nixon said. “I think if you took those three components away from any team it would leave a void. That’s something I think will take some time to fill in any one of those gaps they’ve left, but we feel like with the returning players we have a good core of kids coming back that have experience.”

Among those returning players are junior all-stars Jenna Johnson and Erika Newbold.

“Towards the end of (last) year Erika and Jenna were in starting positions,” Nixon said.

After fighting injury last season, Newbold underwent shoulder surgery this summer and was just released to play two weeks ago. “She came flying into the gym, so we’re really excited to have her back; it’s made a difference in practice for the younger girls to have some experience to go against,” Nixon said.

Other returning players are five of last season’s six true freshmen, now sophomores: Kaycee Mansfield, Cydne Mason, Kyra Prause, Brynn Bradley and Chantelle Martin.

“Definitely in the last month of (last) season we were getting really quite a bit of contribution out of Kaycee,” Nixon said. “In the tournament, especially, Kyra really came on and Cydne was coming up to speed, so we feel like with those returning kids we did gain some experience. Then with the junior college kids that have come with a whole realm of experience of their own, that, I think, is going to help them to be able to step in and hopefully we won’t miss too many beats.”

Nixon recruited from both out of state and locally for the three incoming freshmen this year. The lady Wolverines welcome Kim Bell all the way from Ashburn, Va. Bell scored 1000-plus career points in high school and was named first-team All-District her first three years of high school and second-team All-Region her junior year.

“She (Bell) comes from a family of athletes and is somebody who we really love her versatility,” Nixon said. “She’s somebody who we feel like we can swing in and out, is a very good rebounder and has picked up things really quickly. I think she’s going to really make a contribution this year.”

Also recruited from out of state is 6-foot newcomer Kali Roche from Parma, Idaho. “She’s somebody who I feel like has progressed a lot,” Nixon said. “I think coming into our conditioning program and just our system, she’s been able to raise her level individually and I feel like she’s coming along really well.”

Locally, the Wolverines picked up Whitney Jenkins from Salt Lake City who played for Skyline High School.

“We’re excited about Whitney; she’s a very good athlete, comes from a very good program,” Nixon said. “I feel like she just continues to get better and better and shining more and more in the things that we do.”

Last season’s big bang roster and winning end gives this season’s roster a chance to compete in the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament beginning on Nov. 12 against South Dakota State and will be guaranteed at least three games.

“We’re the first (UVU) team to compete in a team event at the NCAA, we feel honored to represent UV and hope to do that in a good way,” said Nixon.

Even with the losses the roster took after last season, Nixon is still confident in this season’s roster and invites fans to come and watch.

“This team is full of mentally tough, hard-working kids and if you have any appreciation for an athlete that’s working hard, I think you’ll fall in love with our team. I love watching them every day,” Nixon added.

The lady Wolverines will begin exhibition play this Saturday as they host Dixie State in the Activity Center at 7:05 p.m. and Fort Lewis on November 3 at 4:30 p.m. before they take off to the preseason WNIT play on November 12.