Few things in sports build momentum like a victory in the season opener. For Weber State University’s women’s basketball team, taking home a win for the first game was more than just a morale builder; it was a statement.
Last season, the Wildcats only won two games, losing 20 by an average margin of just over 17 points. It was by no means a successful year. However, three players in particular showed promise: Daryn Hickok, Jadyn Matthews and Emma Torbert.
Hickok has always been a talented scorer. In her freshman year, she led the team in points four different times and even finished one game against Southern Utah University with 30 points. Last season, she led the team in scoring, averaging nearly 13 points per game.
Matthews, who started the same year, has been a key two-way player for the team. In her freshman year, she averaged 7 points per game and 6 rebounds. Last season, she improved to nearly 10 points a game and 7 rebounds.
Torbert, a freshman last season, proved herself on the defensive end, leading the team in both blocks and steals. Not only that, but she averaged 7 points per game and nearly 6 rebounds.
In their season opener against North Dakota, it was up to Hickok, Matthews and Torbert to change the way other teams viewed Weber State, a feat they accomplished. The Wildcats made an explosive introduction to the season by scoring 26 points in the first quarter. In the first half, Hickok, Matthews and Torbert combined scored 29 of the team’s 43 points.
By the end of the night, Torbert had 18 points, while Matthews and Hickok together scored 30 points and 20 rebounds, leading the Wildcats to a 72–57 victory.
“It feels good,” Matthews said after the win.
The victory marked the first time that Weber State won a season opener since the 2018-19 season.
Coach Velaida Harris’ team has pushed past the growing pains of prior seasons. The Wildcats have won more games this year than the last two combined. They are also No. 6 in the Big Sky’s conference standings.
After their season opener, Harris listed her expectations for Hickok, Matthews and Torbert. She said Torbert and Hickok should be all-conference players. As for Matthews, Harris said she should average a double-double.
“I think they’re doing a good job,” Harris said. “I don’t think that those expectations were anything beyond what they believed they could do.”
Assuming that no matches are canceled due to COVID-19, the Wildcats have 13 more games this season. The big three have made great progress in reaching Harris’ goals and have clear expectations for what the next part of the season will bring.
Hickok hasn’t taken her foot off the gas as far as scoring is concerned. The junior is leading her team in scoring for the second year in a row. Interestingly, none of her 203 points have come from the 3-point line this season.
“Her game right now is not the 3,” Harris said about Hickok’s absence from behind the arc. “If you have the ability to go by somebody, then go by somebody.”
Hickok’s dominance with high-percentage shots puts her at No. 4 on the Big Sky’s scoring leaderboard. Her average of 13.5 points per game is the seventh-highest in the conference. During Weber State’s 68–63 win against Montana State, Hickok had 28 points, the ninth-highest scoring night for a player in the Big Sky this season.
This year, Hickok has succeeded in other areas far more than she has previously, averaging 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. She’s also led her team in rebounding three times this season and led in assists twice.
Matthews has continued to shine as a two-way player. Leading the team in rebounds for a second year in a row, she is averaging two more per game than she did last season. Currently, she ranks third in the conference on the boards.
“I think confidence plays a huge role for me,” Matthews said about her development on the court. “I have a couple of years under my belt now, so I’m able to be in the program, have a feel for how college basketball works.”
As for scoring, Matthews is second on the team with 190 points, tying her at eighth on the all-conference scoring list. Matthews is extremely close to averaging a double-double this season with 11.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
“I don’t track my stats,” Matthews said. “I know what I’m supposed to be doing. I know what I’m supposed to be producing.”
Matthews hasn’t been the only player coming up big on both sides this year. After a decent offensive performance last season, Torbert has become an exceptional scorer. Averaging 11.9 points per game along with Matthews, she is third on the team in scoring, with 178 points.
“Compared to my freshman season, I’m just more aggressive and willing to shoot the ball when I’m open,” Torbert said. “I’ve had a few good games, and that’s definitely helped me gain more confidence as the season went on.”
For the second time in a row, Torbert is leading the team in blocks and steals. With 24 blocks, she’s second in the conference right behind Montana’s Abby Anderson. As for steals, she’s third in the conference with 26.
“I know I’m No. 2,” Torbert said. “It gives me a new goal to reach and motivation to try and do better.”
Harris says that the stats these players are achieving make the team more consistent.
“On any given night, at least two of them are going to have a double-double,” Harris said. “When I feel like there’s a mismatch or that there’s an advantage outside of just playing off each other the way that they do, we can call a set or a play and I can feel confident that they’re going to either get to the line or get the bucket or make the right decision with the ball in their hands.”
Despite their December success, it’s been an unfortunate January for the team as they’ve only won one game this month. A heartbreaking buzzer-beater against Idaho State set the Wildcats into a three-game slump.
“I think after that loss, if anything, it just made us hungrier,” Matthews said. “We’re a resilient group, so I have no doubt in my mind that it’ll be alright.”
Harris, Matthews and Torbert expressed excitement over the rest of the season. They all noted that the team’s goal is to have an over .500 win record and to make it to a playoff tournament.
“We’ve already won more games this season than I have combined in my last two years,” Matthews said. “Now that I see the potential of this team, I’m kind of shooting high. I want at least a .500 record and then to make it into the postseason.”
Harris believes there’s something special about this group of teammates. She claims that this is the best team she’s coached at Weber State in terms of collective talent and motivation.
“I really like coming into the gym every day and coaching them,” Harris said. “This group has a collective desire to win together.”
The Wildcats will be visiting Idaho State for their in-conference rematch on Jan. 20 at 7 p.m.
“This team is hungry and determined,” Harris said. “There’s a little swag in there and a whole bunch of personality.”