OGDEN — The 2019-20 season was derailed from the start for Weber State women’s basketball.
Senior forward Dominique Williams and junior guards Shianne Johnson and Aloma Solovi were ruled out with serious injuries before the season began.
Freshman forward Vicky Parra went down eight games in and claimed a medical redshirt, and senior center Gina O’Brien was an infrequently used spot player.
That left a complement of nine players; of them, five were freshmen and two were sophomores. Post player Kayla Watkins joined guard Liz Graves as juniors and, as her lone season at WSU progressed, Graves’ expected scoring punch proved to be an inefficient 11 points per game on 38.7% shooting from the field — though that inefficiency was shared by most players on a young roster trying to find its way.
Freshman Ula Chamberlin (31 minutes per game) and sophomore Kori Pentzer (29) played the entire season out of position with primary ball-handling duties and led the team in minutes. After Watkins (28), true freshmen Jadyn Matthews (27) and Daryn Hickok (24) logged big minutes.
The results were rough. The Wildcats turned the ball over profusely — 22 times per game — and worked through a 4-26 season in which many losses were not close.
Now on the other side of that struggle, Weber State sees it as a refinement that leads to success this season.
“I think it sets it up really well. A lot of those players got a lot of experience ... to understand and learn the game. It’s helped a lot,” Williams said. “It’s really competitive and a challenge ... so it’s elevated us to be a better basketball team.”
WSU ended the season on a high note, defeating Eastern Washington in overtime to end the regular season and finishing a play or two away in a loss to Southern Utah in the first round of the Big Sky tournament.
Graves and sophomore post Ciara James transferred out of the program. Johnson, Solovi and Williams all return as upperclassmen with the bevy of young players now suddenly seasoned in the college game.
“It just feels different because they come in knowing what to expect, they know what it’s going to take, and they come in with a totally different attitude and confidence,” third-year head coach Velaida Harris said. “It’s hard to get beat up like that, but they do know what to expect from the conference now. So they’re fired up.”
To Solovi, WSU adds another junior college transfer in Raena Suggs. Ashley Thoms returns as a sophomore, giving Harris newfound depth at point guard.
“Experience and a point-guard mentality that’s very different than anything else — you see the floor, you direct traffic, handling the ball is your priority, feeding other people is your priority,” Harris explained. “So it’s a totally different mindset than any other position and I’ve seen that leadership from them.”
WSU’s final addition is one that could bridge together the returning leadership in Williams and Johnson with the rebounding youth movement.
Emma Torbert — a 6-foot-2 sophomore post player and former three-star, near-top-100 recruit out of high school — joins the Wildcats as a transfer from Nevada.
Two seasons ago as a freshman, Tobert played in all 30 games for the Wolf Pack, starting one. A Mountain West tournament game proved to be her best that season, a win over San Jose State in which she scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench, shooting 4 of 6 from the field, 3 of 4 from deep and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.
Harris described Torbert as a versatile, inside-out player who is sound skill-wise — tough to handle when she has the ball and able to anchor a defense with her presence and communication in the paint.
“The combination of her and a ‘Nique, or her and Jadyn, or her and Vicky, her and Kayla — those combinations, I feel really good about it. I think the conference will be surprised by her, for sure,” Harris said. “Her teammates appreciate having her here and I think she’s happy to be here.”
With only a few new faces, WSU enters the 2020-21 season — scheduled to begin Nov. 27 at Grand Canyon — feeling hungry and like it has doubled its experience.
“To have this many kids with the type of attitude and skill that I’ve been working to get, it’s been fun,” Harris said. “The kids are crazy competitive, they really feel like they have something to prove and they’re pushing each other.”