Utah Valley women’s basketball head coach Dan Nielson is in what some might say is a rebuild year in Orem. Four starters are gone. Two First-Team All-WAC selections are gone. And the Wolverines have just one senior in Kayla Anderson on the roster.
Utah Valley is coming off a 16-win season and an appearance in the WAC semifinals for the second straight year. But, there are a lot of changes in Orem. Nielson also had to deal with the departure of two coaches. Ashley Garfield stepped away from basketball. And Morgan Bailey left to take a similar position at BYU.
Nielson has to replace nearly 75 percent of the Wolverines’ scoring in 2022-23. Josie Williams left for Louisville. Maria Carvalho is at Utah State. Megan Jensen transferred to new WAC and in-state foe Southern Utah and Madison Grange is now at South Dakota.
However, as the 2022-23 season dawns in Orem for Nielson and his team, it presents a new opportunity. Nielson now has his recruits on campus, players he is familiar with. And players that have had a lot of success as the high school level. It is what Nielson referred to as players buying into the winning mentality a lot quicker because of that prior success.
How quickly this new group of Wolverines gel will determine how successful they’ll be in WAC play.
Dan Nielson, 4th Season
2021-22 Season Record:
16-15 overall, 10-8 WAC (4th Place)
Lost in WAC Tournament semifinals to Stephen F. Austin
Josie Williams – Transfer to Louisville
Maria Carvalho – Transfer to Utah State
Megan Jensen – Transfer to Southern Utah
Madison Grange – Transfer to South Dakota
Jaeden Vaifanua 6-1, So., F, Transfer – Wyoming
Kaylee Byon 5-7, Fr., G, Rosary Academy
Halle Nelson 6-1, R-So., Transfer – Utah State
Shay Fano 6-0, Jr., F
Kayla Anderson 5-7, Sr., G
Tahlia White 6-0, R-So., G
Eleyana Tafisi 5-6, So., G
Ally Criddle 5-8, So., G
F – Shay Fano
F – Jaeden Vaifanua
G – Kayla Anderson
G – Tahlia White
F – Halle Nelson
Nielson loses 47.8 points and 24.2 rebounds to graduation and transfer from last year’s WAC tournament semifinal team. The Wolverines also lose a combined 121 starts. Along with that, Utah Valley also loses its top two 3-point shooters in Maria Carvalho and Madison Grange. This guard duo combined to make 87 3-pointers a year ago.
Nielson, despite the losses, will still have a decent amount of collegiate experience at his disposal in his starting five. Shay Fano started 11 of 12 games while dealing with an injury in 2022-23. Kayla Anderson started 23 contests. Tahlia White averaged 18.3 minutes and Ally Criddle played 21.1 minutes. Add in a pair of Division I transfers in Halle Nelson and Jaeden Vaifanua and Nielson has some experience on his squad.
I’ll admit we started the Wolverines towards the bottom of the conference in our “Way Too Early” rankings from earlier this summer. But I won’t be surprised if they finish in the middle too.
Vaifanua missed the last couple of seasons while serving a church mission. But she will be relied upon for her veteran experience in her first season back.
Byon is a freshman from Rosary High School in Fullerton,CA who had an impressive high school career in Southern California. Can she make an impression in her first collegiate campaign?
Both Fano and Anderson know the system at UVU. How quickly the other newcomers adapt will be key.
More importantly, what kind of style of basketball will we see from the Wolverines in 2022-23? They don’t have a 6-5 center to dump the ball into on the low block. And, as it stands, have to replace some really good spot up shooters.
There is relief around the WAC that Josie Williams is gone. The big question for Utah Valley is: how will the youth movement play out?
The Wolverines schedule starts with a non-Division I opponents in Park University before embarking on a four-game road trip. It includes two in-state opponents in Utah and Weber State along with dates against UNLV and Portland State.
Utah Valley then plays five out of eight games at UCCU Center including their WAC opener against Grand Canyon (back-to-back WAC Tournament runner ups).
Their regular season concludes with a two-game homestand against UTRGV and Utah Tech.
Nielson and company took advantage of a European trip to get some early game experience and film to build upon with what is essentially a new team. Watch his appearance on the Straight Outta WAC Podcast.