Last season, Evina Westbrook sat in the background as she adjusted to life in Storrs. Not only was it her first year at UConn, but she had joined a team that was firmly Crystal Dangerfield’s to lead and also featured three other players that had been with the program for at least three years.
This season, as a redshirt junior, Westbrook’s role was certain to change on a roster without a single senior. This elevated Westbrook, who turned 22 in late September, to one of the oldest players on the roster.
Now a team captain, she made sure to earn the respect of her teammates, rather than assume it came with her seniority.
“The biggest thing on my end was to gain the respect of all my teammates because I figured that was the type of role I was going to have, being the oldest player on the team, making sure I look out for everyone,” Westbrook said.
Her goals take on even more meaning in the context of her departure from Tennessee, a program that saw teammates get into a physical altercation in 2017, had Westbrook’s own mother concerned for her daughter’s well-being, and led Geno Auriemma to say he’d be investigated if the same thing happened at UConn. This was a fresh start for Westbrook.
One of her first duties as a captain was welcoming walk-on Autumn Chassion into the fold. Unlike the other five freshmen who had all been committed to UConn for close to a year before arriving on-campus, Chassion didn’t finalize her decision until the end of July. Regardless, Westbrook quickly reached out to the Louisiana native and made her feel welcome.
“Evina has been so great and amazing to my kid, being older,” Autumn’s father Tehmi told StorrsCentral in August. “Evina has a car, she’s like a big sister.”
As the Huskies reconvened on campus in July, Westbrook continued to play the part. The team was split into pods – groups of three to four players that, initially, could only workout and spend time with each other (though those restrictions have been lifted). Each captain – Westbrook, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, and Christyn Williams – led their own pod and Westbrook ended up with two freshmen – Chassion and Nika Muhl.
It didn’t take long for Westbrook to get promoted from big sister.
“We always joke about how Evina is like our mom in our pod,” Muhl said back in August. “She’s been taking very good care of us.”
And once the entire team could hang out together, the natural evolution for Westbrook was to become team mom to everyone.
“Everyone on the team are my kids,” she said with a smile. “Especially the freshmen, I’ll be like ‘Where are the kids at? Are the kids okay?’ It’s really fine...that’s going to come with being the oldest player on the team.”
Though Westbrook admitted she tried to get everyone to call her “big sis” instead – to no avail – she takes pride in the moniker and what it means to her teammates.
“You can ask, they’re like ‘E has us.’ To know that they say that, ‘E has our back with anything, any situation, anything goes wrong, let’s call E. The dishwasher isn’t working, let’s call E.’ Anything. That to me, says a lot about them and means the world to me. It says a lot to me on the court as well that they trust me with anything and that they listen. I definitely love and embrace it,” she said.
It does come with its unintended side effects, though, such as unexpected visitors.
“I was doing schoolwork in the bed,” she said. “[The freshmen] all came in the room, immediately got in my bed and were like ‘Hey, let’s turn the game on.’ I have a little brother at home so I’m used to the invading of my personal space so it’s all love at the end of the day.”
It’s been a long road to this point for Westbrook, through waiver denials, knee surgeries, and a pandemic to boot. Though she hasn’t suited up in a UConn uniform yet, Westbrook has already established herself as a go-to player off the court.