OGDEN — Discouraging. Hard. Frustrating.
For three Weber State women’s basketball starters, the 2019-20 season stunk, and that stench only got worse when they sat through months of seeing their young teammates thrown into their first college basketball season.
Junior guard Shianne Johnson played the 2018-19 season on a bum ankle, then had to have it “fully repaired,” head coach Velaida Harris said. Johnson rehabbed and trained, but it was clear leading up to the 2019-20 season that she’d have to sit out.
Senior forward Dominique Williams had multiple fractures to bones in two fingers on her shooting hand and, after surgery to repair them, the fingers weren’t healing correctly.
“I wasn’t getting range of motion back in it, so it would have been like shooting with three fingers,” Williams said, and a few weeks before the 2019-20 season, she too was shelved.
“It was kind of a shock at first ... and it was sad,” she said.
Aloma Solovi, a point guard from Salt Lake City, had signed to Weber State as a junior out of Sheridan College in Wyoming. She started 31 games as a sophomore for the Generals, leading the team with 2.6 assists per game and ranking third in scoring at 8.9 points per contest.
When preseason camp started, something wasn’t right with her knee and “I had practices where I just couldn’t go,” she said. It needed surgical attention and Solovi was out for the season.
The three watched as the Wildcats, playing five freshmen and two sophomores as the bulk of their rotation, struggled to a 4-26 season that included a lot of blowouts.
Johnson said working on injury recovery and still trying to be a good teammate was difficult.
“Dealing with your own injury, you don’t want to be selfish so trying to help our young players get in the flow of college basketball, it was really hard to manage both,” Johnson said. “It was dealing with wishing you could be out there, figuring out how to help your teammates. So the whole season watching was really hard.”
But as the season wore on, the three started seeing the benefits.
“I started to see it as an opportunity to heal, to learn more about the game and help my teammates,” Williams said. “So I took it as a time to step off the court as a leader.”
The three were among a group who watched from the bench during every home game and occasional road games — though most road trips they spent in Ogden and would sometimes hang out.
“Having all that time sitting next to each other watching practice or watching games, we bonded a lot during that time,” Johnson said. “Now I know how Aloma thinks without actually playing together ... just by how she sees the game, how I see her IQ for the game, and it shows now that we have practiced together.”
Williams said she began to see the game through new eyes and understand how her teammates see the game — and developed a deeper appreciation for being able to lace up and play.
Johnson and Williams returned to practice or workouts as the 2019-20 season entered its final month.
Solovi joins Raena Suggs and Ashley Thoms as a more experienced group of point guards, allowing Ula Chamberlin and Kori Pentzer to play their natural positions off the ball, with Johnson re-entering the shooting-guard group and sophomore Daryn Hickok on the wing.
Williams joins a post group with 6-foot-2 Emma Torbert, a sophomore transfer from Nevada and former three-star recruit out of high school. Jadyn Matthews returns as a sophomore after being one of WSU’s most efficient players last season, freshman Vicky Parra returns from injury and Kayla Watkins is back as a senior.
The players feel the new additions, returning players and those rejoining after injuries transform the Wildcats from incredibly young and inexperienced to a team that’s deep and experienced.
“I’m excited. It’s been a really long time and a really long process,” Solovi said. “I’m excited for what we have to prove this year because I know we have a lot of doubters ... but we have a new team so I feel like this is a year to prove great things for us.”