By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Three weeks away from the start of official fall practices, UTSA women’s basketball coaches are feeling pretty good about the talent, the depth and the experience on a team that will carry the school’s flag into its first season in the American Athletic Conference.
“I think we’re in a better place than we were last year at this time,” third-year UTSA head coach Karen Aston said Monday “We had some carryover from people sticking around and not transferring.
“You know, we didn’t graduate a lot of kids. Hailey (Atwood) returned for us (as a graduate student). I think there’s just a little more carryover. We’re a little further ahead than we were this time last year.”
One issue looms with a question regarding the health of star forward Jordyn Jenkins. Aston said that Jenkins suffered a knee injury last spring that required surgery.
The coach declined to discuss the mishap in detail, other than to say that last season’s Conference USA Player of the Year was hurt in the offseason, in a March-April time frame.
Aston also declined to speculate on how far along Jenkins is in the rehabilitation process, with the season opener for the Roadrunners looming on Nov. 6 at Arizona State.
“We’re really disappointed for her,” she said. “She was in such a really good place. We’ll just see how she recovers.”
If Jenkins can return to form, the Roadrunners could have one of the most talented teams in school history.
In her first season at UTSA after transferring from Southern Cal, the 6-foot power forward captured the C-USA’s Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year honors by averaging 20.6 points (on 49 percent shooting) and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Tossing in a school single-season record 659 points, Jenkins led the charge as the Roadrunners finished 9-4 down the stretch to post a final mark of 13-19.
Near the end, they won six games in a row, including their last four in the regular season and their first two in the C-USA postseason.
At that point, after notching tournament wins over Florida Atlantic and Rice to move within two victories of the NCAA’s Big Dance, they were ousted by Western Kentucky in the conference semifinals.
Moving into the AAC this season, the Roadrunners are loaded with experienced players, including five returning starters.
Strength down low last year came from Jenkins and 6-3 center Elyssa Coleman (9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds). The lead guards were Sidney Love (9.9 points) and Kyra White (8.0), with Atwood playing on the wing. Those five started the last game of the C-USA tournament.
Key reserves for most of the year included forward Maya Linton and guards Madison Cockrell, Siena Guttadauro and Alexis Parker. Along with those four, Kyleigh McGuire also played off the bench — and all five of them are back. Another player returning is Nissa Sam-Grant, a 6-foot-4 post, who redshirted last season.
A few weeks into early fall semester workouts, there’s a completely different feel from this time last year, when the Roadrunners were trying to manage a team with eight newcomers, including five freshmen.
“Last year, we brought in eight new people,” assistant coach Empress Davenport said. “That’s essentially a starting five with reserves coming off the bench, having to learn a whole new system, having to understand the pace of collegiate basketball.
“This year we brought in three freshmen (guards Emma Lucio and Aysia Proctor and forward Idara Udo) and a transfer from James Madison, Cheyenne Rowe, who has a tremendous IQ.
“Last year, everyone was trying to learn the system and find cohesiveness (with) each other. Now, we have so much experience, our veteran players can pretty much coach the young ones.”
Elyssa Coleman 6-3 forward/RS junior
Hailey Atwood 5-8 guard/grad
Alexis Parker 5-9 guard/soph
Emma Lucio 5-9 guard/freshman
Siena Guttadauro 5-6 guard/soph
Madison Cockrell 5-4 guard/soph
Sidney Love 5-8 guard/soph
Aysia Proctor 5-8 guard/freshman
Maya Linton 5-11 forward/soph
Cheyenne Rowe 6-2 forward/soph
Kyra White 5-9 guard/senior
Kyleigh McGuire 5-11 forward/senior
Idara Udo 6-1 forward/freshman
Nissa Sam-Grant 6-4 center/senior
Jordyn Jenkins 6-0 forward/senior