A new facility, a new team. Day one with the UConn women's basketball team.
STORRS: The new building is amazing, the new team that plays inside looks like it might be as well.
Wednesday was the media’s first chance to get a look at the 2014-2015 version of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and the “Basketball Champions Center” they and the men’s team will call their practice home.
To say the not completely finished building is fit for kings is a slight understatement, considering what both teams accomplished last season with their dual championships, it’s truly fitting.
This gem started construction early in 2013 and was going up, brick by brick as the women were running through the country on their way to the title and the men were building their own championship story, one stair at a time.
Two complete, nine basket arenas give each team their own space to start the process of painting this seasons portrait, one they hope will end with the same amazement that 2013-2014 did.
The two teams will kick off this year’s festivities on Friday night when they raise two banners during “First Night” Celebrations next door at Gampel Pavilion.
On Wednesday though, it was time for the coaches and players to get in their first official practice in their new digs.
This year’s team has a much distinctly different mix to it than the championship team. A year ago there was just one freshman on the team, Saniya Chong, this year, four talented but green freshman are getting their first taste of what it’s like to play for the Huskies.
Sadie Edwards, Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams and Courtney Ekmark are being put through the ringer by a coaching staff that has done it for nearly 30 years under head coach Geno Auriemma and the road will not, make that you can bet the road will not be an easy one.
When asked about what she sees when she takes a look around this team, one upperclassmen who has been part of two championships summed up her early thoughts on this team.
“We’ve got a lot of babies,” Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said, “We’ve got to make sure we get them ready. It’s not easy coming in as a freshman, I remember me, Bria (Hartley) and Kia (Stokes) first practice and it was pretty hard. You get a lot of stuff thrown at you and you don’t necessarily know what to do and it’s our job as upperclassmen that we help them.”
KML remembered back to her days when she arrived at the university and who helped her get through those initial tough days.
“I needed someone to be a level headed voice during practice to tell me, you know, the technical things, right and wrong. The coach is going to yell at you but it’s your teammate’s job to lift you up,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “The first ones that did that for me were Kelly Faris and Caroline Doty. I remember Caroline coming up to me after a particularly hard practice and telling me, it’s alright, he’s going to yell at you because he wants you to be great and she said that to me often after practice.”
After a year and a half of fighting through troubling injuries or mono a year ago, Mosqueda-Lewis is one player who is going to be counted on to make up for some of the offense lost by the graduation of Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson.
“We lost two pretty good players a year ago,” Auriemma said, “We’ll have to see who steps up this year to fill that void.”
Hartley (16.2) and Dolson (12.5) accounted for nearly 35 percent of the Huskies points a year ago while Dolson led the effort on the boards with 9.3 rebounds per game.
Hartley led the team in three point attempts (224) and made three pointers (82) while being second on the team in assists (173).
Breanna Stewart led UConn with 19.4 points per game while Mosqueda-Lewis was third with 13.4.
Now, there will be more shots for those two shooters to take so their averages should go up.
Moriah Jefferson is back and on day one of practice was her usual bundle of energy in whichever drill the Huskies ran.
Jefferson has developed into one of the top point guards in the country and is just a junior.
A healthy Morgan Tuck and the ever powerful Kiah Stokes make for an impressive starting five but aside from Chong, who will step up to give the Huskies some much needed minutes?
Might just depend upon how the freshman get through the next two weeks, with her from their friends along the way.