OREM — The 2013-14 Utah Valley University women's basketball season gets underway Friday when Nevada visits the UCCU Center for a 4 p.m. tip. Head coach Cathy Nixon enters her 19th season at the helm of the Wolverines, making her the longest tenured coach in the history of UVU athletics.
Stepping into its first season as a member of the WAC, UVU returns just four letterwinners and two starters from last season's 15-15 squad that captured the program's first and only Great West Conference regular season title. Most notably absent in a group of eight lost letterwinners is graduated forward Sammie Jensen who was second in the nation in rebounding (14.1/g) a year ago and won two straight GWC Player of the Year awards. Also missing is four-year standout and 2013 GWC Defensive Player of the Year Kaycee Mansfield and backcourt staple Cydne Gray.
Entering the fold are eight Wolverine newcomers that will team up with a thin group of veterans led by starting guards Tina Doughty (Granbury, Texas/Granbury HS) and Whitney Jenkins (Salt Lake City/Skyline HS). Junior guard Ashley Klemz (Las Vegas/Centennial HS) and sophomore center Sam Loggins (Boise, Idaho/Mountain View HS) round out the 2012-13 returners — a group that comprised 34 percent of UVU's total minutes last season.
In all, the Wolverine roster features just two seniors as guard Kyra Prause, returning from a redshirt, joins Jenkins as the team's upperclassmen.
"It's an interesting challenge for us because, with this being our first season in the WAC, the opportunity is high but our experience is lower than it's been in a while," Nixon said. "We're going to rely on our experienced players to be a leveling force out there for us, but at the same time we're obviously going to need some of our inexperienced girls to step up."
Nixon got a good look at those newcomers last Friday in the Wolverines' lone scrimmage of the preseason, an 85-50 victory over Adams State. All 13 UVU players saw game action and 47 points of the final team total came from newcomers. Sophomore transfer Katie Kuklok (Poway, Calif./San Diego) dropped in 19 of those points, while true freshman Rhaiah Spooner-Knight (Hamilton, New Zealand/Sacred Heart) added 10 more.
Kuklok is one of a group of transfers and redshirts making up a bevy of the Wolverine newcomers. Guard Georgia Agnew (Hamilton, New Zealand/Salem Hills HS) and forward Karlee Kartchner (Hyrum, Utah/Mountain Crest HS) joined Kuklok on the redshirt list last season, while junior college transfer Mika Pinner (Orem, Utah/Western Wyoming CC) also enters the season with recent playing experience.
"We have a good group of players like Kyra, Katie and Georgia who have spent a year or more in our program and we're going to depend on them to step in and contribute and help our less experienced girls find their role," Nixon said.
Rounding out the roster are true freshmen Ashley Baugh (American Fork, Utah/American Fork HS), Makaily Worthington (Queen Creek, Ariz./Queen Creek HS) and Rebecca MaWhinney (Midway, Utah/Wasatch HS). The trio combined for 20 minutes of play against Adams State last weekend.
Doughty, a second team All-GWC performer last season, is UVU's top returning scorer at 10.4 ppg. The junior has already received some preseason recognition as she was selected to the Preseason All-WAC second team by the league's media at the WAC Basketball Preview back in October. She is expected to carry a good portion of the scoring load this season and did just that in a 27-point performance last Friday night.
Awaiting Utah Valley this Friday is an experienced Nevada squad that returns 10 letterwinners and four starters from the 2012-13 team. That squad went 8-23 overall and finished ninth in the Mountain West Conference.
Headlining the veteran Wolf Pack are senior guards Danika Sharp and Arielle Wideman. An honorable mention All-MW selection last season, Sharp averaged 13.6 ppg to lead Nevada in scoring. Wideman scored at a rate of 8.2 ppg and also led the team with just over two steals per contest.
"Nevada will challenge us in a lot of ways," Nixon said. "They have a lot of experience with very talented guards. Sharp shoots the ball very well, and they are long and athletic. They will replicate some of the things we're going to see in WAC play so they represent a good challenge to see where we measure up early on."
The Wolf Pack also have good size as their roster features six players at 6 feet or taller, most notably center Mimi Mungedi who is listed at 6-foot-7. Only a sophomore, fifth-year head coach Jane Albright will be eager to gauge the development of the young center who scored 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting in Nevada's win over Air Force in the first round of last season's MW Tournament.
Following Friday's contest, Utah Valley will have 24 hours to prepare for its next opponent, Walla Walla University. An NAIA institution, WWU will make the trip to Orem for the third consecutive season. That game tips off at the PE Building at 7:05 p.m.
"The concentration of our time on the court has been in practice and we wanted to get as many minutes of game action as we could before we head out on a long road trip next week," Nixon said of the short turnaround.
The Wolverines make their longest trip of the season next weekend, trekking to Virginia to face George Mason and Longwood.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
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