Seals, Spooner-Knight look to pace young Wolverine squad
Kyle McDonald | Sports writer | @kylesportsbias
After dropping a heartbreaker to Seattle University in the 2015 Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament, the Utah Valley University women’s basketball team is looking forward to a new season and new opportunities.
“I think we all resolved after the last two years in the WAC Tournament, that we wanted to come down here and be at our best,” UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. “For me, it’s a matter of just coming and playing our best and letting the game take care of itself.”
Nixon is entering her 21st season as head coach and she will be looking to WAC Freshman of the Year Mariah Seals and All-WAC second team member Rhaiah Spooner-Knight lead a young team that only has one senior on its roster.
Seals started in all 30 games as a true freshman and averaged 11.5 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game, and 1.2 steals per game while playing a team-high 34 minutes per game. Spooner-Knight led the Wolverines with 13.4 points per game in 2014-15, while also having 5.3 rebounds per game.
The lone seniors returning for the Wolverines Patrice Toston and Sam Loggins. Loggins is a 6-foot-5-inch center out of Boise who averaged 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as she played in all 31 contests in 2014-15.
Toston is a 5-foot-7-inch guard out of Seattle who played in 25 games and averaged 5.4 points, 1.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. She also started 16 of the first 18 games she played in after transferring from College of Southern Idaho.
“I’m feeling really good about our team,” Loggins said. “We’re making good progress. We have a lot of returners coming back so we’re going to have a lot of good experience. We have a lot of new girls coming in as well that are going to be able to contribute right away.”
Those new Wolverines include Quynne Huggins out of Goodyear, Ariz., Kendall Perry out of Gilbert, Ariz., Kelsey McCann out of Highland, Utah, Veronica Preciado out of Sacramento, and Hadley Nielson also out of Gilbert.
“This year for the younger kids, it’s a matter of trying to learn from the experience players and rise to the level of their own abilities,” Nixon said. “We’ll need some of those freshman to step up. I think one of the areas that they can contribute is in some consistent perimeter scoring and we’ve lacked that the last couple of years.”
Besides the lack of perimeter scoring the Wolverines have had the past few years, turnovers have also been a struggle and that is one thing Nixon is preaching in practice on a day-to-day basis.
“As coaches that is something that is constantly on our mind,” Nixon said. “We’ve analyzed every game, every possession in the last couple of years and tried to really find the weaknesses we have and to work on them. Absolutely turnovers are one of our biggest focal points. Every drill we track those. We reward taking care of the ball. I think as our team gets better and more experienced, some of those things in a game situation will take care of themselves.”
After an exhibition match against Colorado State University-Pueblo on November 7, the Wolverines will have six days to prepare for their season opener at BYU on November 13 at 3 p.m. MT as part of a doubleheader with the men’s teams. They also have matchups with the University of San Francisco out of the West Coast Conference, Nevada out of the Mountain West, Alabama of the SEC and Oregon of the Pac-12 as well as in-state games against Southern Utah, Dixie State, USU, and Weber State before starting WAC play against New Mexico State on January 7.
“I get excited for every game,” Nixon said. “BYU I’m most excited about that because it’s our first game. I really do value the preseason. I think it’s critical to learn from those games. I try not to look past anybody. We’ll be tested in the preseason and hopefully prepared so that when we get to WAC play we’ll be able to compete for the championship.“
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