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UVU women’s hoops looking to build off banner season

By Jared Lloyd - | Oct 21, 2021
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The UVU women's basketball team celebrates after its WAC tournament first round game against Chicago State at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.

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Utah Valley University center Josie Williams (40) goes up for a shot while guarded by Chicago State University forward Alexandria Cliff (4) and guard Taylor Robinson (2) during a game between the Utah Valley University Wolverines and the Chicago State University Cougars held Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, at the UCCU Center in Orem. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Utah Valley University guard Keana Delos Santos (11), center Josie Williams (40) and guard Emma Jones (22) joke around as they all stack their hands to cheer after defeating the Grand Canyon University Antelopes 57-46 on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, at the UCCU Center in Orem. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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UVU women's basketball players celebrate a good play during the game against Kansas City in the Lockhart Arena at UVU in Orem on Saturday January 4, 2019. 

Although it required a unique set of circumstances, the UVU women’s basketball team reached new heights in the 2020-21 season as they finished second in the Western Athletic Conference and made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time.

As the Wolverines prepare for the 2021-22 campaign, the hope in Orem was that last year’s success will be a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

“The goal of last year was to make the most of it,” UVU head coach Dan Nielson said at Media Day on Monday. “The experience we had, the success we had in conference winning as many games as we did, beating some good teams, I think those are things we can build on. I think we know we can compete with anybody in the league and have a chance to be right there at the end.”

Nielson believes that the program is headed on an upward trajectory and is beginning to gel as everyone gets on the same page.

“I feel good about where we are at,” Nielson said. “This is Year No. 3, so most of our experienced kids know what we are doing are able to coach up some of our younger kids. This will be our deepest team and I think our most talented team overall. I’m excited to see how we do.”

He knows there might high expectations now but he wants his team to embrace that.

“We talk about how that is the point of playing,” Nielson said. “If you really want to compete at this level, the point is to try and win championships. From Day 1 we said those are our expectation and we want to practice and play at that level as much as possible. Hopefully it doesn’t add stress but we try to make it a daily thing where we hold them to that level of play.”

One of the benefits for UVU this year is that it returns a large core group, including four of five starters. The one who moved on, however, will definitely be missed.

“Nehaa Soheil is our biggest loss,” Nielson said. “She started at the No. 3 spot and played almost all of last year on a broken foot. She looked at surgery options but it was going to require a major surgery. She also finished her MBA last year and now she’s preparing to go to medical school. We’re sad but we’re excited for her as well.”

The Wolverines have five players returning who averaged more than 20 minutes per game: guards Maria Carvalho, Kayla Anderson and Madison Grange, forward Shay Fano and center Josie Williams.

“We are really excited about having that continuity back,” Nielson said. “We have a lot of the same faces who know what we are doing and continue to get better in our system.”

UVU also has some newcomers it expects to contribute, including a number with Utah Valley ties. Babalu Stewart and Tahlia White were previously at BYU, while freshmen Ally Blackham (Skyridge), Abby Conlee (Lone Peak) and Saige Gibb (Timpview) are also on the roster.

Nielson is looking for his team to play solid defense and be strong inside but shooting is still a question.

“Once we get to games, can we shoot the ball like we have been doing in practice?” Nielson said. “We’re shooting it great right now, much better than we did last year, but we need to maintain that. We also need to continue to take of the ball. Last year we were near the top in assists per game but then we were turning around and giving it away almost as much. If we can cut that down and get more shots, we will hopefully see more seven or eight point wins.”

Nielson believes that the WAC has improved and there will be a lot of teams vying to make it to the postseason.

“We’ve got to get used to playing well every night,” Nielson said. “You can’t just do it once every two weeks. You need to be playing really well on Thursday, then flip around and do it again on Saturday. If we are consistent, we will have a chance at the championship. If we’re not, we will win big games but then lose games that will frustrate you. That’s what we are working on.”

The season gets underway for the Wolverines on Nov. 9 when UVU faces Park (Arizona) in the UCCU Center at 6 p.m. That may sound like its still a ways away but Nielson said the time is disappearing quickly.

“We’re excited to have a close-to-normal year,” Neilson said. “You get going in October and it flies by when you want to have time to keep getting ready. Then you get to games and it just goes faster and faster.”

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