After having arguably the most successful season in program history, the women’s basketball team finds itself starting fresh with a roster filled with young, new players.
Last year, the senior-laden team won the ASC for just the second time and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament — the farthest the Comets have ever gone in the postseason.
Most of that experience has been lost, however, with only seven Comets from that roster returning this year. Head coach Polly Thomason said it feels like they’re starting all over again.
“We’ve got 10 new players. Most of them are our guards,” she said. “We knew that at the end of last year that we had a great group of seniors who really stepped up and that this was going to be the problem, the challenge. Our hump basically is getting the new people acquainted with my coaching style, what I expect, what we want out of our basketball players.”
Since the team has undergone such a drastic change, some of Thomason’s strategy has adjusted with it. Last year, guards led the team, with starting point guard Madi Hess averaging 12.2 points per game and being named the first All-American in UTD history.
Hess, along with senior guards Amber Brown, Christina Brosnahan, Iemah Wallace-Perry and Emily Price, has graduated from UTD, leaving the Comets with a lack of experience in the backcourt. For Thomason, this means she will have to rely on post play more than in years past.
“Early in the season I think we need to be more post-oriented until our guards get comfortable and get the experience that they are lacking,” she said. “We haven’t been very post-oriented the last couple of years, so just changing our offense to get them more touches, more looks are things that we’re going to have to do.”
For this year’s team, most of the experience lies with its forwards and centers. Juniors Madison Steele, Nicolette Erkman and Micaela Gonzalez will form the core of the Comets interior lineup.
“Because the post have the most experience, the post play is more extensive,” Steele said. “As the guards get warmed up and used to how conference play is, the guards will step up.”
Along with switching to a more center and forward based attack, UTD is also changing its defensive mindset this year. Traditionally, Thomason’s teams have refrained from pressing teams coming up the floor and have focused on a half court defense.
This year, that may change, as the Comets have to adjust to rule changes and increasing athleticism in the game.
“The game has evolved, so we’ve got to evolve a little bit,” she said. “So yeah, we’re going to add some press and some pressure defense and play a little bit more full-court, up-tempo because I think that’s the way the game is evolving. In order to keep up with the game, we’re going to change our style a little bit.”
For the new players on the team, all of these changes, along with the adjustments they have to make personally, will likely pose a challenge for the young squad.
Alyssa Crockett, a junior guard from Cisco Junior College, said she is still adjusting to the play at UTD.
“I’m just getting used to the coach and my teammates and just everyone,” she said. “A lot of freshmen, a lot of sophomores, juniors, all that. Just getting used to it, that’s a little bit of a struggle.”
In the Comets’ first game of the season against Schreiner on Nov. 14, the teams youth and inexperience was on display in the first two quarters, with turnovers grinding the offense to a halt. UTD finished the game with 25 giveaways.
In the second half, however, UTD was able to find its form, outscoring the Mountaineers 34 to 26. 18 of those second half points came in the paint. The Comets were lead by Steele and Gonzalez, who had 16 and 12 points, respectively.
Additionally, UTD finished the day with 23 points coming off of turnovers.
Thomason said first game jitters were apparent in the Comets first outing.
“We just played that way in the first half, we weren’t really trusting anything we were doing,” she said. “I really liked our adjustment in the second half, for sure. It was still ugly and Schreiner’s a great team, but we found ways to win, we found ways to be successful and I like that about our team.”
As the Comets look forward to the upcoming year, Thomason doesn’t view this as a rebuilding season.
“Our goal is still to win a conference again,” she said. “We’d love to be back-to-back champions. That’s what we talk about, that’s what they’re working for. (The players) understand it’s not going to happen today or tomorrow, we’re not going to be the best team we can be this opening weekend, we’re building every day and just working hard every day getting better at the things we need to get better at.”