If there is a crystal ball with the UT-Rio Grande Valley’s women in it, the characters include a new head coach and a mix of veterans and just two newcomers making up a roster with the goal of putting last season’s 14-win campaign in the past and moving to the future.
And that future? Well, that’s the great unknown.
Head coach Lane Lord, who comes to his new team with a history of success from the Division II ranks, is in the lead position of the UTRGV women’s team.
Lord, a five-time conference and three-time NCAA regional coach of the Year in 11 seasons at Pittsburgh State, was named head coach following the resignation of former coach Larry Tidwell.
The winningest coach in school history, Tidwell accepted the head coaching job at Texas Tech after last season’s 14-16 showing at UTRGV.
“The growth of UTRGV has been monstrous, and I am ready to be a part of it,” Lord said. “Chris King (athletic director) and his staff have taken this department to the next level, and I am ready to take the women’s basketball program to the next level as well.”
Lord’s first team has plenty of leadership with six seniors on the roster, highlighted by the duo of guard Quynne Huggins and forward Krisynthia Sampson.
Huggins (10.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), who is in an active battle with thyroid cancer, was a steady hand on both ends of the court last season, dropping 48 three-pointers and collecting 32 steals.
Sampson (7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) ranked fourth in scoring and first in rebounds. She added 36 assists and 19 steals.
Other seniors are guards Nichele Hyman (5.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg), Jameka Dowell (5.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg), Idil Turk (4.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg) and Daniela Azubell (2.1 ppg).
Dowell scored in double figures seven times and earned all-tournament honors in a pre-conference event last season. The team needs Türk to find her shooting range. An elite three-point shooter her first two seasons, her 27-of-132 showing on three-pointers was a drag to the offense in 2017-18.
Another veteran in need of a break-out campaign is sophomore Valeria Tapia, who could fit into the point guard slot.
Tapia (3.7 ppg) had 79 assists to just 37 turnovers and added 24 steals in her initial season. Though she struggled with her shooting, her ball-handling and creativity in setting up her teammates with scores will be assets in Lord’s offense.
Megan Johnson should provide both production and a calming effect to the floor. Although she struggled with her shot, the junior averaged 9 points and 5.3 rebounds with 39 steals and 40 assists. She was out to a fast start last season before struggling down the stretch after suffering a broken nose.
Shaiann Tramble returns to the roster after missing all but three games with a knee injury last year. Amara Graham (4.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg) is an option at point guard. Her 61 assists and 17 steals last season suggest that more playing time is ahead.
Projected Starting Five:
- Quynne Huggins, Sr., 5’11, G, Goodyear, Arizona
- Jameka Dowell, Sr., 5’8, G, Lebanon, Tennessee
- Idil Tuk, Sr., 5’9, G, Istanbul, Turkey
- Megan Johnson, Jr., 5’10, F, Newcastle, Australia
- Krisynthia Sampson, Sr., 6’0, F, Phoenix, Arizona
Senior guard Quynne Higgins, who is battling thyroid cancer, led the team with 48 three-pointers and an average of 10.2 points while averaging 22 minutes in 2017-18. Her presence on the sideline and court will serve as inspiration for her teammates.
Although coming off a 14-win season that included plenty of adversity and injuries, this team has a heavy dose of veteran savvy that could lead to better results – a 20-win campaign and a push for surprises in the WAC Tournament.
Another struggling campaign could be ahead if the offense doesn’t get an immediate facelift. The team shot 25 percent on three-pointers and 37 percent from the floor. If the shoddy shooting persists, this team could be shuffling around and be lucky to finish .500.
Game of the Year:
vs. Kansas City, March 2nd
Most Impactful First-Year Player:
Natalia Ready, Jr., G is ready to shine. Her first season at UTRGV consisted of injuries to both knees and a redshirt campaign. She averaged 10 points at Fort Scott Community College before her arrival at UTRGV.