The University of Colorado will host the first two rounds of this year’s Women’s NCAA Tournament — and it seems only fitting for the Buffs to be a part of the action.
CU women’s basketball head coach Linda Lappe knows her team has a long way to go before that dream can become a reality, though. For the past two seasons, the Buffs have gotten off to strong start, faltered mid-season and finished the year on a high note.
Lappe’s goal this year is to eliminate that mid-season dip and she said the depth of this year’s squad may be able to do just that.
“We have hit a lull in the past two years in January,” Lappe said. “We have had good starts and good finishes. I think the depth is really going to help us sustain the level that we want to play throughout the year. We have 12 players that can play and there are not a whole lot of [coaches] that can say that.”
This year’s Buffs boast an impressive combination of senior leadership, experienced juniors and sophomores and talented newcomers.
The team’s two seniors, guard Chucky Jeffery and guard/forward Meagan Malcolm-Peck, are no strangers to the leadership role. With only one senior last season in Julie Seabrook, Jeffery and Malcom-Peck were forced to step up as juniors.
Jeffery said that in her final season as a Buff, she wants to continue to lead by example as she has been but also become become a more outspoken mentor for her teammates.
“I’m not as vocal as, say, Meagan would be, but I think I’m more of an example-type leader. I do things and have people follow me that way,” Jeffery said. “[Being a leader] is kind of what I’m used to, people respond to me a little bit … I’ve just got to get a little better at the vocal part and thinking ahead, just trying to keep everybody on the same page, so I have to step it up just a little bit more.”
Sophomore teammate Lexy Kresl said Jeffery’s strong example works well alongside Malcolm-Peck’s more outspoken role.
“I would definitely say the [leadership] has been vocally from Meagan,” Kresl said. “And everyone looks to Chucky Jeffery to set the tone for things and start things with energy.”
One of the most striking characteristics of this year’s team, though, is that the talent comes from far more than just the seniors.
Kresl, a guard, was a phenomenon from beyond the three-point arc last season, breaking the school record for most three-pointers as a freshman with 63. With a year’s experience under her belt, she hopes to be able to improve on other aspects of her game.
“This season my biggest goals are to become a better defender, I don’t want to be a weak point in the defense this year,” Kresl said. “As well I would like to extend my scoring abilities to inside the three-point line.”
Lappe’s squad also returns twin junior guards Brittany and Ashley Wilson, who recorded a combined 436 points last season, and junior center Rachel Hargis, whose 26 blocks last season ranked her 14th in the Pac-12 Conference.
The team also introduces four true freshmen in guard/forward Lauren Huggins, forward Jamee Swan, guard Alexus Atchley and point guard Kyleesha Weston. Weston was recruited specifically to play the point guard position, and Lappe said she hopes she will be able to take on that role more permanently around mid-season.
“I think freshmen who come in as the point have by far the toughest job of any of the freshmen because they are trying to learn so much, they are trying to lead the team, they are trying to understand the defense and to communicate,” Lappe said. “They have so much on their plates, and Kyleesha will be one of those players that just keeps getting better as practice goes along and she gets more experience.”
But it may be forward Arielle Roberson, a redshirt freshman who sat out last season due to injury, who is the most eager to get out on the court.
“I don’t think words can even describe how excited I am,” Roberson said. “I think about this every day and I really wish that we started our season of games today. I’m just really excited and blessed to have this opportunity to come back and be healthy once again.
Roberson, whose brother Andre is a standout forward on the men’s team, said she’s setting some high goals for herself in her debut season
“I would like to be Pac-12 Freshman of the Year,” Roberson said. “I just want to be that one who can help and contribute a lot to my team this year and help us get to the NCAA Tournament … If we are hosting the first and second round here, it only makes sense to play, right?”
It would seem so. The Buffs may be only at the start of their season, but they’re already imagining a future March Madness spot on their home court. The team’s preseason begins Friday, Nov. 2 with an exhibition game against Western State University at the Coors Events Center in Boulder.
Photo credit: (CU Independent file/Robert R. Denton)