Let’s face it. The past two seasons for Weber State’s women’s basketball team were not pretty. The team finished with records of 6-25 and 4-26 during the first two years under Head Coach Velaida Harris, and to say that the team has struggled recently, well, would be an understatement. But like critically acclaimed rapper J Cole once said on his song Love Yourz… “It’s beauty in the struggle.”
The beauty in Weber State’s struggle?
As Harris enters her third season leading the program, she has only had to watch three seniors graduate. Last season, during her first full off-season, she brought in six new players, five of whom were freshmen and one a transfer from Salt Lake Community college.
If COVID-19 does not impact college basketball for the second straight year, Harris will only lose two other players to graduation: Kayla Watkins and Dominique Williams.
So where did things go wrong last season?
Nothing derails a season like injuries, and WSU can attest to that statement after the slate of injuries they suffered last year. Aloma Solovi, the junior transfer from SLCC, was lost for the year shortly after arriving on campus last summer. Junior Shianne Johnson and senior Dominique Williams were next to be pronounced out for the season. Then nine games into the season, freshmen Vicky Parra got hurt and missed the rest of the season. Each of these players was awarded a medical redshirt, which gives them another year of college eligibility.
As if the injuries were not bad enough, the Wildcats active roster toppled from 14 to 10, and, out of those 10 players, five were freshmen making their college debuts and one was a transfer from Brigham Young University and was making her Wildcat debut after being forced to sit due to the NCAA’s transfer rules.
These are the players who finished the season without injury for WSU:
Senior: Gina O’Brien
Juniors: Kayla Watkins, Liz Graves (BYU transfer)
Sophomores: Ciara James, Kori Pentzer
Freshmen: Ashley Thoms (redshirted the year before), Daryn Hickok, Jadyn Mathews, Shyanne Loiland and Ula Chamberlin
It’s hard to win in college basketball at any level. It is especially hard when you only have four available players who saw action in the previous season and only three of those four were able to play meaningful minutes.
The record may imply that the Wildcats lacked talent. However, WSU had plenty of games when it seemed like they would have a shot to win it, but the opposing team would start rolling, leading to the ‘Cats losing their lead or a small deficit being blown open.
Coach Harris often explained the quarter lapses by simply calling it for what it was — fatigue — pointing out the five freshmen who played important minutes were undergoing the longest and toughest schedule of their lives with it being their first year of college ball.
Throughout the season, the young Wildcats took their lumps but learned what college ball was like as they gained experience from each game they played. Their season ended with a trip to the Big Sky tournament, where they gave Southern Utah a scare behind 23 points on 10-15 shooting from Kayla Watkins, but in the end, SUU left the arena with a 62-58 victory.
This off-season has shown that the Wildcats will look a bit different next year.
When 6 foot 2 inch sophomore forward Emma Torbert transferred from the University of Nevada to Weber State midway through the season, she became the first of three new additions to the team. The ‘Cats also welcomed 5 foot 8 inch junior guard Raena Suggs from Cochise College and freshmen 6 foot 1 inch forward Mikayla Peterson from Melbourne, Australia.
Along with three arriving players came four departures.
The first was Gina O’Brien, who is one of the countless seniors around the country who are awaiting their college graduation ceremony. Outside of O’Brien graduating, three players transferred to other programs. Ciara James is now at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona after two years with WSU. Shyanne Loiland left the program after one year to play at Minnesota State University Moorhead and Liz Graves will play at Southern Utah with her sister after transferring from BYU and spending two years in Ogden.
The Wildcats bring in a healthy team and a young, experienced core looking to take a step forward. The biggest factors will be how much the returning players improved and how well they can mesh with the players who missed the season due to injuries.
If the Wildcats can find cohesion on the court and stay healthy, they will undoubtedly see improved production on the court.
Here is how the current roster looks for Weber State
Seniors: Dominique Williams and Kayla Watkins
Juniors: Aloma Solovi, Kori Pentzer, Raena Suggs and Shianne Johnson
Sophomores: Ashley Thoms, Daryn Hickok, Emma Torbert, Jadyn Matthews and Ula Chamberlin
Freshmen: Mikayla Peterson and Vicky Parra