UVSC women's basketball has been under the radar in Utah, but this season's team has the chance to stand out in the midst of playing some nationally recognizable schools.
As practice has been under way for more than a week, coach Cathy Nixon likes her team's chances despite potential roadblocks.
"This is a year that is going to be challenging for us," Nixon said. "Our schedule is pretty difficult in that our home and road games are tough. But we have the majority of our kids back."
Losing only one senior from last year leaves the Wolverines with plenty of depth in what arguably is the toughest schedule they have had since starting NCAA Division I play five years ago.
"They (players) want to play teams that are recognized nationally," Nixon said. "We have been gaining recognition as we have been successful. My philosophy is to put ourselves against teams that are at that level."
Leading the way is junior center Robyn Fairbanks. Having led all D-I Independents in scoring last year with a 23.7 average good enough to also rank third among all players nationally and leading the team with 9.7 rebounds per game average in 2006-07, Fairbanks has the chance to star in front of solid competition.
"She is just getting started," Nixon said. "Robyn is in a situation this year where she is primed, poised and ready to be better than she was last year.
"She had some surgery, and her knee is feeling better, and she is in better condition."
A strong backcourt should take some pressure off Fairbanks to score and also create more opportunities for Fairbanks when the situation arises.
"That's part of what a team sport is, is that you complement one another," Nixon said. "And then as the level around Robyn gets better, I think she is going to continue to get better and better."
Hollie Beaman, Sandy Marvin and Asumi Nakayama played nearly the same amount of minutes a year ago. Adding to the package is Marvin's ability to provide scoring help. She was second on the team with 13.7 ppg.
"The guard line in general definitely has a big impact on the success of the team, and those are some areas that we have been trying to improve in," Nixon said.
Helping cement the guard rotation was the team's tour of Japan this summer.
"A lot of that (trip to Japan) was to try to get better," Nixon said.
Nixon added that the trip helped the Wolverines learn to be more efficient on offense and take care of the ball.
Two newcomers also help the guard-heavy lineup. Sophomore Kayla Burningham joins the Wolverines after a year at BYU-Hawaii, where she scored 14.4 ppg and averaged more than 39 minutes. Betsy Conklin is the only freshman on this year's team and led the state of Idaho in steals her senior year.
Staying together will be especially important this season. UVSC's schedule doesn't give them any favors. The date at Duke on Dec. 18 immediately stands out.
"That was part of my thinking in scheduling that game was to take our girls and see basketball at the highest level," Nixon said.
But Nixon is more focused on later in the season as UVSC takes on several independent teams to close out the regular season before heading off to the D-I Independent Championships at Texas-Pan American in early March."The big part of our focus is to be competitive with the independents," Nixon said.
Women's basketball previews
The Deseret Morning News will preview some women's basketball teams, which began practice last weekend for the 2007-08 season:
4 questions for the Wolverines
• How will Robyn Fairbanks, the No. 3 scorer in the country, handle tougher competition?
• Can a guard-heavy lineup take the load off Fairbanks?
• Will a platoon system at point guard hurt the team?
• Who besides Fairbanks will battle on the glass?