You could say that UConn women’s basketball is ahead of schedule, and it would be true in a couple of ways.
For starters, they weren’t supposed to be as good as they were last year after losing three All Americans. It was supposed to be a down year, with 2017 bringing a return to the top.
Instead, they ran roughshod through the regular season despite a challenging non-conference slate, pushed the winning streak to 111 and needed an all-time performance from Mississippi State to bow out in the Final Four.
Unlike the last four seasons, the Huskies aren’t defending national champions. But they’re still the clear-cut favorites after adding the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and transfers Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara.
While it can be tough acclimating that many new players to the system, UConn is ahead of schedule in another regard. The team is taking a trip to Italy this month, allowing them to start practicing two months before everybody else.
“It’s good for us because not a lot of teams get this,” said freshmen guard Mikayla Coombs. “A lot of teams have to go into the first game and don’t know what’s going on.”
It also prepares the freshmen for the rigorous nature of practice, not only physically but mentally as well. Head coach Geno Auriemma is notorious for being demanding the best out of his players each day, something many freshmen, such as Crystal Dangerfield last season, struggle with.
“The upperclassmen have told us it will help us out for regular season practices,” said Megan Walker. “It’ll give us a head start on things.”
The freshmen are certainly eager to get on the court to get a taste of their first college action. There’s no question the returning players are as well, but they can also see a different benefit coming from the trip.
“We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to go on a foreign trip and have this extra team bonding time,” said senior Kia Nurse. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
“We’ve been able to get really close since being here but I think that’ll add an extra element,” said Azura Stevens. “Leaving the country, not having WiFi, we’ll experience a different part of the road together which are the type of experiences you never forget.”
Auriemma sees things a bit differently, which is no surprise. He’s looking forward to evaluating the new players so that when the regular season comes around, he will already have an idea of what role they can play.
“I think the practices leading up to that are going to be more of an indicator of what they do (than the games),” said Auriemma. “We’ll find out a lot about who can do what and who can do manage certain things.”
With all the extra time on the court this month, UConn will be well ahead of its competition once the season starts up in October. For a team that has just two losses in the last four seasons, that should be pretty terrifying for the rest of the country.