How close is the University of Nebraska at Omaha women's basketball team to getting up to speed as a Division I program?
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“The safe answer is we don't know,” UNO coach Chance Lindley said. “Until we play more nonconference games, more conference games, I really don't know for sure what we're still lacking.
“But I think we're heading the right direction.”
The Mavericks, on short notice, shifted from Division II to Division I last season. They went 15-12, including 2-10 against Division I teams and 1-3 against Summit League teams.
Everything gets a little tougher this season as UNO plays 25 of its 28 games against Division I opponents, including a full slate of Summit League games.
“We're ranked ninth out of nine, which means no one expects anything,” point guard Jamie Nash said, referring to the Summit's preseason poll. “That means we have to expect so much more out of ourselves.”
The return of Nash, a 5-foot-4 senior from Verona, Mo., and 6-foot senior wing Paige Frauendorfer of Humphrey, Neb., is a good starting point.
Nash averaged 12.9 points, a team-high 6.1 assists and ranked third in the country with 4.1 steals per game.
Frauendorfer blossomed in Lindley's first season, averaging 13.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. Frauendorfer was named to the Summit's preseason all-league second team.
“I hope she picks up where she left off,” Lindley said. “She's looking great in practice right now. With everyone a year older, and bringing in some new players, as well, I think that helps Paige.
“I think there were times when Paige was double-teamed, or teams knew we were going to her and they shifted their defense toward her side. I feel like we have some more scorers and some more depth this year to where it keeps the defenses more honest.”
Forward Stacia Gebers (7.4 points, 5.0 rebounds), guard Cathleen Cox (6.9 points) and 6-4 center Taijhe Kelly (who scored a total of 26 points in starting the final two games last year) are back after playing prominent roles last season.
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Oklahoma State transfer Carolyn Blair-Mobley, junior college sharpshooter Ericka House and transfer forward Casse Vaughn are among those joining the mix.
“It's a situation where we're really close, but still really far,” Lindley said. “There's a fine line there. I think we're close to being pretty good in the near future, but we're still far enough away that there's a lot of work to do.”
The pieces seem to be falling into place. The long-range forecast seems bright.
“I think they're going to be successful — they beat us at our place last year, and we saw their 'first Division I win' game ball in their trophy case (on a return trip to Sapp Fieldhouse),” said Western Illinois coach J.D. Gravina, laughing. “Luckily Western Illinois has a little name recognition in Omaha.”
Though there were some rough stretches during the first season in Division I, UNO also learned from it.
“I'm excited,” Nash said. “We have a few new faces. In practices we're working harder from beginning to end, knowing that the competition is harder. We know we have to match that.”
A season-opening, eight-game homestand gives the Mavs a chance to get used to their teammates and environment without the added rigors of traveling.
“It's huge for us, because there's new girls coming in and it's nice to have those games so we can get really comfortable,” Nash said. “Knowing your court, knowing your basket ... it's comforting. By the time we start getting comfortable, then we can go on the road and we'll have that feel for how we want to play.”
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