By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
When the UTSA women romped to a 9-4 finish to last season, the novelty of the team’s success came as a pleasant surprise to their fans. Close followers of the Roadrunners’ program knew that Coach Karen Aston had a chance to turn around a program that had been mired in losing records for years.
But, to do it in Year 2 of the rebuild? It was a sweet feeling, no doubt. Now that the Roadrunners have continued on their upward trajectory in Aston’s third season, the team might be approaching an inflection point.
As the Roadrunners (11-9, 5-4 in the American Athletic Conference) prepare to host the Tulane Green Wave, it’s possible that their own fans might be congregating at the Convocation Center at 2 p.m. today fully expecting to win. Call it happy expectations, or whatever.
At the same time, it’s probably also true that opposing teams like the Green Wave (9-11, 2-7) have also received the same message. A few years ago, teams that arrived in San Antonio in February expected to play a leisurely game and leave with a road victory. Now, they’re aware that winning at UTSA will take an all-out effort.
Roadrunners guard Alexis Parker said she thinks her teammates are prepared to face heightened intensity from opponents looking for an upset victory on the road.
“For sure,” Parker said Friday. “Coach just told us in the locker room the other day, teams would tell her (last year) that, ‘Hey, your team plays really hard.’ Now, they’re saying, ‘You’re team is really good.’ That’s a big compliment, and we’ve got to own up to that.”
Parker grew up just a few miles from UTSA. Her neighborhood, she said, is about 10 minutes away from the Convocation Center. Brandeis High School, where she made a name for herself, is closer than that. She said she saw her first UTSA home game when she was 15 years old.
In that regard, she said it’s a special feeling to be on sort of the ground floor of the program’s rebuild. Parker recalled the conversation she had with Aston during recruiting. The coach told her that coaches were committed to “moving the needle,” and then she was challenged.
“Do you want to be a part of that?” Aston asked, in so many words.
“Yeah, for sure,” Parker replied.
At that, she signed on to become part of a 2022 recruiting that included Sidney Love, Madison Cockrell, Siena Guttadauro and Maya Linton, all of them out of high school. Also, transfers that year included Jordyn Jenkins and Kyra White, two impact players from Southern Cal.
In a little more than one season with the Roadrunners, Parker has played in 38 games, averaging 11.3 minutes, primarily off the bench. She enjoyed perhaps her biggest moment as a UTSA athlete earlier this week. On Wednesday night, the Roadrunners toppled the North Texas Mean Green 75-67 in overtime.
Parker played 17 minutes, including a couple of minutes in the extra period, during which UTSA outplayed the first-place team in the American.
“I honestly think she’s been practicing really well, leading into that game,” UTSA assistant coach Jamie Carey said. “She was very locked in to the game plan. Obviously, she provides some great length and athleticism, in particular on the defensive end. I thought she came in and did a tremendous job defending their hard-to-guard guards.”
For the past two months, Parker had not played much for the Roadrunners. She logged single-digit minutes in six games and did not play in six others. But against North Texas, UTSA needed a defensive presence with length on the perimeter, so coaches went to her in all four quarters in regulation and in overtime.
“Again, her length is really special,” Carey said. “Combine that with her athleticism. Then you start locking in in practice and things start clicking a little bit. (We’re) just really proud of her. She’s been putting in a lot of extra work. She’s been in the gym. It’s nice to see it pay off, when somebody spends (so much) time in the gym.”
Parker said she tried to stay focused on the little things on and off the floor during the past few months.
“Really just putting in work every day,” she said. “You never know when you’re jersey’s going to be called. Just getting into the books, paying attention to scout, the other team’s tendencies, it’s just really important. So, I took that serious.”
In that regard, Parker said it was a special feeling for her to the team to contribute to the win.
“I felt great,” Parker said. “That was a big win for us. North Texas is at the top. We knocked ’em off. Just felt like, ‘This is not it for for us. There’s still more.’ We’re still hungry. We’re going to keep working, because, that’s what we do.”
Tulane at UTSA, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Tulane 9-11, 2-7
UTSA 11-9, 5-4
UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins, who has yet to play this season, continues to work out in full-contact practices. She participated in a five-on-five segment of Friday afternoon’s workout. It’s a noticeable increase in her activity from the fall, when she would be seen engaged only in light running and individual shooting drills. No word yet on whether she’ll try to play this season. But if she does, her return would yield a significant boost in talent for the Roadrunners. Jenkins averaged 20.6 points last season and earned Conference USA Player of the Year honors.