UTSA women picked ninth in preseason C-USA basketball poll

UTSA has been picked to finish ninth in Conference USA women’s basketball, according to the conference’s preseason poll announced Thursday.

Jordyn Jenkins at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Newcomer Jordyn Jenkins leads UTSA into a regular-season opener at Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 7. Jenkins has been named to the preseason all-Conference USA squad. – photo by Joe Alexander

Roadrunners forward Jordyn Jenkins, a transfer from Southern Cal, has been named to the preseason all-conference squad.

According to the poll, which has been released out of the C-USA office, Middle Tennessee State has been picked to win the title, followed by Louisiana Tech and Charlotte.

The projected order of finish is as follows, with first place votes in parentheses and total points:

1. Middle Tennessee (9) 118
2. LA Tech 104
3. Charlotte (2) 95
4. Rice 77
5. North Texas 75
6. WKU 66
7. UAB 58
8. UTEP 43
9. UTSA 36
10. FIU 34
11. Florida Atlantic 20

Preseason Player of the Year

Keiunna Walker, LA Tech

All-Conference

Mikayla Boykin, Charlotte, senior guard
Jada McMillian, Charlotte, senior guard
Anna Larr Roberson, LA Tech, junior forward
Keiunna Walker, LA Tech, senior guard
Kseniya Malashka, Middle Tennessee, redshirt senior forward
Savannah Wheeler, Middle Tennessee, senior guard
Courtney Whitson, Middle Tennessee, senior forward
Quincy Noble, North Texas, senior guard
Ashlee Austin, Rice, senior forward
Jordyn Jenkins, UTSA, junior forward

UTSA’s Aston practicing patience during fall camp workouts

Coach Karen Aston at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA coach Karen Aston is monitoring the progress of her five talented freshmen 20 days out from a Nov. 7 season opener at Stephen F. Austin. – Photo by Joe Alexander

With five talented freshmen among eight newcomers on her team, UTSA women’s basketball coach Karen Aston has known for some time now that she would need to be patient during the fall preseason camp.

Aston is going through one of those stretches now. Exactly 20 days out from a Nov. 7 season opener at Stephen F. Austin, the coach is making the most of the time allotted to teach the game.

“We had a full scrimmage last week against the guys and there (were) some glaring weaknesses that we needed to address,” she said Tuesday morning. “I think the last couple of practices, we’ve done that.

“It’s like plugging holes,” Aston said. “You figure out something that you need to get better at, and you work on that, and then another (issue) comes up.

“We just have so many new faces, with so many freshmen, the information overload is upon them with the wear and tear of preseason practices. In 20 days, regardless of whether we’re ready or not, it’s like, we got to start playing.

“You got to go and start to get the feel of what this is going to be like. You can talk about it in practice, but, when they get in the games, it starts to resonate a little more.”

Guard Sidney Love from San Antonio-area Steele leads the UTSA freshmen. She is seeing the floor quite a bit during workouts and, with an advanced offensive game, looks to be bidding to start the opener.

Others are guards Madison Cockrell, Siena Guttadauro and Alexis Parker and forward Maya Linton.

A few days ago, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talked about how he planned to throw some of his young players “into the frying pan” to see what they could do.

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen with us, with these freshmen,” Aston said. “Some are moving along a little quicker than others.

“Some are better in some areas. Some can shoot the ball really well but they don’t exactly know the pace or the physicality, so they’ll come around, each one of them probably on their own clock.”

Though Aston hasn’t named names exactly on her projected starting five, Love likely is in serious contention to start.

“I think she’s starting to figure some things out,” Aston said. “I thought she went through a pretty rough patch last week on probably just the load of practice, the pressure, all of that.”

Love has been better this week as two older, more experience players — Kyra White and Hailey Atwood — step up their repetitions in practice after sitting out team drills for much of camp in August and September.

As both work their way into shape, Love is responding.

“Having (junior transfer) Kyra White and Hailey back at practice has helped her tremendously,” Aston said. “It should help all the young ones, because (the freshmen) have been plugging along without any role models, so to say.

“I think having those two back has really helped (Love). It’s taken a little pressure off her shoulders.”

For much of the early fall workouts, Love handled most of the load at point guard.

White, a San Antonio-area Judson grad and a 5-9 junior transfer from Southern Cal, initiated the offense quite a bit at Tuesday’s workout. With White at the point, Aston had Love on the wing at a shooting guard.

“Moving her to the two and sometimes lightening that load, has been really good for her,” Aston said. “She seems to be having a better week this week because Kyra’s back.”

A ‘wonderful surprise:’ UTSA women listen to an NIL proposal

A financial proposal under the new Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rule in college sports was presented Tuesday morning to members of the UTSA women’s basketball team.

Roadrunners coach Karen Aston said it’s the first deal of its kind for her team as a group.

Details weren’t immediately available, but it sounded as if it might involve an appearance or appearances. At the end of practice, Aston invited two men attending the workout to talk to her players at center court.

The two spelled out the terms to the players and invited them to participate. Afterward, some players were reading the paperwork on the court.

“That’s a huge deal for this program, to have somebody invest in our young women,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said. “No matter what the amount and what the transaction is, or whatever you want to call it, just to have people that really care about women’s basketball and athletics in this city is something that I think could catch fire.

“It takes somebody to step up to the plate and be generous … and we’ll go from there. Like I said, I hope it catches fire.”

Aston declined to disclose the details, saying she wanted to go through the “proper channels” before she makes any statements in that regard.

“I knew they were coming to practice but I didn’t know they were presenting that,” she said. “That was a wonderful surprise for our coaching staff and our players. I’m happy for ’em. Again, every little bit matters.”

Aston said her team has individuals with “small building blocks of NIL,” but as for the whole entire team, “that was unexpected.”

“It was very generous,” she said.

In basketball-related developments, senior Hailey Atwood and junior transfer Kyra White have stepped up their level of activity in practices. Both took part in team drills.

Since the fall semester started, players have attended workouts and have worked out mostly on their own. Tuesday, both were involved in team sets on a limited basis.

“They’ve been in some halfcourt stuff,” Aston said. “They’re limited right now to half court. Kyra is a little bit ahead of Hailey. As far as being able to go a certain amount of minutes. But it’s definitely progress.”

Aston said she’s encouraged because both are experienced players. White played 77 games the past three seasons at Southern Cal. Atwood played 27 games and started 12 for the Roadrunners last season.

As a team, the coach said she likes the way the group is progressing defensively.

“I feel like any time you work on skills and actions in the summer and fall your defense is typically a little bit behind, and it is,” Aston said. “But we’ve concentrated (on it) the last couple of days, so I think we’ve made a little progress.”

The Roadrunners open their season on Nov. 7 against Stephen F. Austin.

A long dry spell for the UTSA women’s basketball program could be nearing an end

Kyra White and Jordyn Jenkins

Kyra White (left) and Jordyn Jenkins have started fall workouts with the UTSA Roadrunners after transferring from Southern Cal. White played in high school locally at Judson. Jenkins, from Kent, Wash., received all-Pac 12 honors last season. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Driving cautiously from my home to the UTSA campus one morning last week, gray clouds hung low on the horizon as I splashed through puddles on the road during the first substantial downpour in San Antonio in several months.

Surprisingly enough, when I finally reached my destination at UTSA women’s basketball practice, the precipitation continued. As soon as a spirited five-on-five session began, different players started to rain shots from all over the place.

Coach Karen Aston at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Karen Aston is preaching patience as the Roadrunners to ty mesh six returning players with eight newcomers. – photo by Joe Alexander

Not all of them splashed through the nets.

But one of them, a three out of the corner, was hoisted decisively at the end of a transition play. It snapped the cords. More than a few mid-range jumpers rattled in. A big center displayed solid footwork in advance of banking in a couple from close range.

Granted, this was one practice. It was the one and only practice involving the UTSA women that I’ve seen in more than a year.

But Karen Aston acknowledged in a telephone interview on Friday that she, too, has detected a marked uptick in offensive potential since she revamped the roster for her second season as head coach.

“Definitely, I think we’re going to be able to put the ball in the basket a little more frequently than we could last year,” Aston said. “Again, last year’s team gave me (100 percent). I think we squeezed everything we could out of ‘em.

“I thought they were one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve ever coached. One of the most coachable teams I’ve ever (worked with), but we struggled to score the ball. This team will do that a little bit easier.”

Sidney Love at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sidney Love (center) was the player of the year in the San Antonio area last season at Steele High School. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Could it be that Aston’s rebuild of a historically downtrodden program is moving along at a faster pace than you might expect? Could it be that a drought of seven-straight seasons with losing records might be coming to an end?

It could be. As a team, the Roadrunners are decidedly bigger and more athletic than usual, and they also have more than a few players with offensive ability, which always helps. The coach has 14 players on her team, eight of them newcomers, including heralded Southern Cal transfer Jordyn Jenkins.

The other day, I noticed that Jenkins was hitting shots with regularity from 15 feet and in. Returning center Elyssa Coleman and wing player Queen Ulabo also looked as if they had been in the gym quite a bit this summer.

“Two things are going to help us be better,” Aston said. “The returners seem so much more comfortable right now in who they are and what we expect from them, as opposed to last year, (when) nobody knew. Also, the two kids from USC (Jenkins and Kyra White) are going to come in and give us some experience and maturity from playing at a high level.”

Jenkins, a power forward, and White, a wing player and a former a prep standout at Judson High School, should provide an instant boost to the Roadrunners.

Another local favorite could be Steele High School-ex Sidney Love, last year’s player of the year in the San Antonio area. Love leads a group of three promising freshmen point guards, which also includes Texan Madison Cockrell and Californian Siena Guttadauro.

Queen Ulabo at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Queen Ulabo has assumed a new role, moving from the post to the perimeter. Ulabo is considered one of the most improved returning players on the roster. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I think the biggest challenge for this group is the point guard situation,” Aston said. “We’ve got young kids. They’re talented, and I love how they compete. (But) they’re all freshmen with the exception of (senior) Deborah (Nwakamma) … They’re going to have their highs and lows.”

Last year, as Aston began the painstaking task of turning around a traditionally downtrodden program, the Roadrunners finished 7-23. They completed the Conference USA regular season at 3-14.

In doing so, they shot a frightful 33.2 percent from the field, which ranked last in the C-USA and 346th out of 348 teams nationally. Based on what I saw the other day, though, this team could be dramatically better on the offensive end.

It’ll all start with Jenkins, an athletic, 6-foot forward from Kent, Wash. Last year, she emerged as an all-Pac 12 Conference performer, while averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Trojans.

Last week, I watched her score about five baskets in a very short period of time during five-on-five work.

“Jordyn Jenkins is really talented,” Aston said. “She can do a lot of things. She’s versatile at the forward position. And in my opinion, if she sticks this thing out, and does the things she’s capable of doing, I think she’s a pro. I think there’s potential (for her) to be a pro. No question about that.”

Returning players who have caught Aston’s eye in terms of individual improvement in their games have been Coleman, Ulabo, Nwakamma and Hailey Atwood.

“They just look so much more confident in themselves and what they’re doing,” Aston said. “Their skills are better. It’s hard for me to pick one of those returners because they’ve all improved a lot. A whole lot.”

How good can the team be?

“Obviously with eight new players it’s going to be a process,” Aston said. “I mean, it’s almost like it was last year, where chemistry will have to be built … Patience is going to be important for us.”

Elyssa Coleman at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore center Elyssa Coleman averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season. Coleman produced 21 points and 11 rebounds in a C-USA tournament victory over UTEP. – Photo by Joe Alexander