OREM For Utah Valley State men's and women's basketball teams, the start of the regular season tonight provides a unique set of challenges for each squad.
On one hand, the women have the advantage of starting their season at home. But the downside of that is back-to-back games to begin the year.
First up will be Mesa State tonight, with less than a 24-hour turnaround before facing Cal State-Fullerton Saturday afternoon.
"It's a good test," said UVSC women's coach Cathy Nixon. "It's how we'll end the season in the Independent Championships, that time playing three straight."
Nixon should be confident going into the start of the season. An 85-59 victory over Eastern Oregon in the team's only preseason game showed that the Wolverines can rely on more than last year's leading scorer Robyn Fairbanks in getting buckets.
Junior guard Sandy Marvin instead led the Wolverines with 20 points. While Fairbanks' 17 points wasn't far behind, sophomore Julie McMurray also contributed to the win with 14.
It wasn't the point scorers that impressed Nixon though. "Our defense sparked our offense," she said.
17 team steals was part of that, along with 28 defensive rebounds. "We put some pressure on the boards," Nixon said.
But don't look for the early games to foretell the women's success later on in the season.
"For, us, it's a test on how certain lineups work together," Nixon said.
The Wolverine men don't have the luxury of easing into the season as they face the toughest part of their schedule head-on.
After tonight's game at Boise State, UVSC will travel halfway across the country to take on Marquette a preseason top-15 team in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls Monday and then at Arkansas State on Wednesday, making for a brutal stretch of three games in six days.
Junior guard Ryan Toolson will get his chance to see how he handles the pressure of taking on more of a leadership role. Of course Toolson showed he can still do what he does best, putting up points, as he led the team in scoring in both of its exhibition games against Westminster and 17 against Mesa State.
Seniors Jordan Brady and Joe Walker's success inside will also be telling on how well the Wolverine's perform. Both have shown they can help on the glass as Walker notched a double-double against Mesa State and Brady was one board shy of his own double-double against Westminster.
The men return from the road with a Nov. 20 date against Troy in their home opener and face Great Falls on Nov. 24.