Opening the season on Friday against UCSB, the Northern Arizona women’s basketball team will see its first test under new head coach Loree Payne.
While top returners Olivia Lucero, Kenna McDavis and Kaleigh Paplow are locks for the team’s starting five, Payne said the rest of the roster is still figuring out who will be joining them on the court for Friday’s tipoff.
“We are still working it out, we have a couple contenders for the five spot and a couple contenders for that next wing spot,” Payne said. “Everyday it kind of changes for us, so we may not know until Thursday.”
Picked to finish third in the Big West Conference after an appearance in the final of conference tournament championship game, UCSB enters the year with four returning starters and eight of their 10 players from last year back.
“We are a very different team than UCSB; they have a lot of depth with four returning starters. They could go 12 deep if they wanted, and we only have 12 players that are cleared to play,” Payne said. “So it makes it a challenge knowing we are going to have fresh legs coming at us all the time.”
With three transfers sitting out the season and a freshman redshirting due to injury, the Lumberjacks will have just 12 players active during the season, including a freshman walk-on.
Payne said the shortened roster could lead to Lucero, McDavis and Paplow playing heavy minutes at times this year. Last season, Lucero averaged 30.6 minutes while playing 28 of 30 games and Paplow played 26.3 per game as she played all 30. Injured for half of the season, McDavis played in 17 games while averaging 19.5 minutes.
Peyton Carroll played just 33 minutes total last season, the team’s fourth-leading returner in minutes played.
“It depends on their health, it depends on their conditioning. Obviously I am not going to let them be out there sucking wind and very tired. We will try to work in quick blows for them, quick rest times for them,” Payne said. “But for us to be successful, I think we need them on the floor as much as possible. So it is really going to be strategic in maximizing their minutes and maximizing their rest time.”
With UCSB coming up from sea level on the coast of California, Northern Arizona expects to run and use its training and elevation as an advantage. The Gauchos also played their exhibition against Cal State East Bay without two of their starting post players, including Drew Edelman, who was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.
The teams tipoff at 6:30 p.m. in Rolle Activity Center.