UTA Lady Mavericks turn focus to defense following a historic 2018-19 season

Freshman guard Claire Chastain drives toward the basket during the Lady Mavericks' game against Stephen F. Austin State University on March 21 at College Park Center. The Lady Mavericks won the game by a score of 60-54.

Coming off a historic 2018-19 season, this year the women’s basketball team’s focus is on defense.

Last season, UTA claimed the regular season co-conference championship for the first time since 2009. The Lady Mavericks also earned their first postseason win in program history in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Head coach Krista Gerlich said chemistry was key last season. The Lady Mavericks posted a 24-8 overall record, a joint-best for wins in program history. But missing out on the NCAA Tournament is a “burr in their saddle” for the players after UTA failed to reach the Sun Belt Conference Championship game, she said.

UTA’s motto this year is “defend,” following last year’s motto of “mountain climbers.” Players must buy into the defense-oriented mentality to defend on the court and defend their title, Gerlich said.

Now with hardware to show for its efforts, winning a conference title is the new standard, and Gerlich said this team has its eyes set on the NCAA tournament.

“They can’t be satisfied,” she said. “They have to continue to not only uphold what our standards are as our Lady Mav program, but they’ve got to continue to raise them.”

The Lady Mavericks have a tough nonconference schedule, facing three Power Five conference opponents — the University of Louisville, the University of Oregon and Oklahoma State University — at the 2019 Paradise Jam from Nov. 28 to 30 in U.S. Virgin Islands. Even if they lose a matchup, Gerlich said the players should use it as a learning experience to improve.

UTA has the talent to use a variety of lineups, Gerlich said. The team can go big and defensive, to force opponents to shoot bad outside shots and use height on offense. They can also go smaller and faster, pushing out their offense in transition, attacking the basket and shooting 3-pointers more.

“It’s going to be really fun to watch the different looks that we have,” she said. “Right now, we have 11 players that are playing, and all 11 of them can hoop.”

The Lady Mavericks graduated four seniors, including guard Cierra Johnson, UTA’s all-time steals leader and most vocal presence, last year. Senior guard Aysia Evans has stepped up in a new role that differs from Johnson, Gerlich said.

Evans said being the only four-year UTA senior has forced her into a new leading role. She said she wants to leave an impact of hard-working defense, continuing UTA’s identity as a defense-oriented program.

Sophomore guards Katie Ferrell and Terryn Milton will need to become floor leaders, Gerlich said. She wants Milton to command as the floor general and for Ferrell to keep her tough presence while playing a utility role, mainly seeing action as a point-forward.

Ferrell said this year’s team is “crazy athletic” with the addition of the newcomers, and UTA will use that on defense, which will lead to transition offense.

“What we’re going to use to our advantage is our speed [and] our athleticism,” Ferrell said. “We already put in a new offense and [have] given a new look to this year attacking the basket more.”

The four new additions to the team are all transfers: sophomore guard Katie Mayhue, junior guards Jordynn Hernandez and Barbara Benson, and senior forward Marie Benson.

Mayhue transferred from the University of Montana as an athletic and versatile shooting guard with great work ethic. Gerlich said she plans on using Mayhue as a point guard role during transition play, swapping the role with Milton.

Hernandez came from Collin College but is expected to sit out the season with a microfracture in her left knee. A vocal leader similar to Johnson, Gerlich said Hernandez is a high-IQ player with a good shot from distance.

Hernandez said she’ll still aim for the leadership role, like a coach on the sidelines for her teammates.

“It’s different when I tell them stuff, compared to coach [Gerlich],” she said. “I can go talk to them on the baseline and help Terryn out, or whoever, as that point guard spot.”

Of the four recruits, Mayhue is the only one who is confirmed to play this season, because Hernandez is out injured, and the Benson sisters are sitting in their year of residency, at the time of publication, while still awaiting their NCAA transfer waiver to be approved.

Overall, seven sophomores make up the squad of 13, along with four juniors and two seniors.

Gerlich said no freshmen were recruited this season because last year’s six freshmen made a big impact. It was difficult to bring in high school recruits because of concerns that they would be unlikely to see minutes.

Although the current team makeup wasn’t by design, Gerlich said bringing in players with college experience gives the team age, speed and toughness on the court, which incoming freshmen can lack.

Evans said now that UTA has tasted victory, it would hurt even more to lose this year than if they hadn’t won at all.

“We have such a big target on our back,” she said. “[We’re] trying to get everyone to understand how important it is that we work hard every day in practice now so we can win later.”

@_julio_vega

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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