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UConn women’s basketball adds 2021 signee Saylor Poffenbarger a semester early

With all winter athletes gaining an extra year of eligibility, Poffenbarger will join the Huskies ahead of schedule.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn women’s basketball will get an unexpected boost from one of its 2021 signees this season. Saylor Poffenbarger will join the Huskies early after graduating high school this week, the school announced on Friday. She will wear No. 4.

The Frederick News Post first broke the news.

“I know Saylor’s really excited. This is an unprecedented event for us for a lot of reasons, but this is an unprecedented year,” Geno Auriemma said in a release. “Opportunities have presented themselves that weren’t available for the past. I’m excited for Saylor and her family that they wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and I can’t wait to coach her in practice and have her as part of the team.”

Rated as the No. 30 player in the class of 2021 by ESPN, the 6-foot-2 Poffenbarger will arrive on campus on Saturday, Jan. 16. After quarantining for 10 days, she can officially begin to practices and play in games with the team. Poffenbarger wasn’t supposedly to join the Huskies until next season, along with the rest of the 2021 class.

But in October, the NCAA granted all winter athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic — whether they played or not. That opened the door for programs to bring in 2021 signees early.

Dominique Darius, the No. 26 player in the class, joined UCLA’s roster a semester ahead of schedule — a move that put the idea in Poffenbarger’s head for the first time. On a local level, the Huskies’ men’s hockey team added their top 2021 signee after Christmas.

Auriemma was asked about the possibility of doing the same earlier this month and though he didn’t close the door on the idea, he didn’t make it sound like it would to happen, either.

“Where are we with our players? Well one, they’re still in high school at their high school,” he said. “If and when — since it has become an issue and people are doing it — if all of a sudden, our four incoming freshmen find out ‘Hey, my season’s canceled. I could finish school tomorrow. Coach, can I come?’ That hasn’t happened yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t. That doesn’t mean it will. I’m just saying it hasn’t happened yet.”

Poffenbarger put herself on track to graduate early but didn’t do so with college in the mind. She planned to play her senior year of high school ball but the pandemic’s impact on the season — which has yet to begin — ultimately changed her mind.

UConn will not add fellow 2021 signees Caroline Ducharme or Azzi Fudd early while Amari DeBerry’s intentions are unknown, per Hearst CT’s Doug Bonjour.

A native of Middletown, Maryland, Poffenbarger initially committed to UConn in July of 2019. She’s viewed as a versatile guard with a defensive motor, something Auriemma highlighted when she officially signed her letter of intent in November.

“A kid like Saylor: We needed somebody that could play a lot of different positions and had a feel for the game,” he said.

In 2019, she helped Team USA to a gold medal in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship and led her Middletown (MD) High School team to the state semifinals before COVID abruptly ended her season. She was also named Ms. Maryland Basketball last year and took home Area Player of the Year as a sophomore. Poffenbarger will reportedly major in mortuary studies and has already interned at a local funeral home.

It will likely take some time for Poffenbarger to adjust to the college game, especially considering UConn’s other six freshmen have been working out and practicing with the team since August. The Huskies are also loaded in the backcourt with juniors Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams, sophomore Anna Makurat, and freshmen Paige Bueckers and Nika Muhl.

However, Poffenbarger’s 3-point shooting could help her find minutes considering UConn has struggled to make shots from beyond the arc all season long.

Poffenbarger is now the 12th player on the Huskies’ roster and the seventh freshman.