Jena' Williams will have the bal in her hands a lot as the floor general for UTRGV, especially late in games. Courtesy UTRGV Athletics.

UTRGV Vaqueros Women’s Basketball 2022-23 Season Preview

The UTRGV Women’s Basketball team had a less-than-ideal 2021-22 season. After going 14-19 overall and 8-10 in the WAC, the Lady Vaqueros finished 9th in the conference. 

But, it wasn’t without some exciting moments. For instance, UTRGV hit 14 3-pointers in the regular season finale. Well, that regular season finale just happened to be at Stephen F. Austin. And those 14 3-pointers led UTRGV to a 76-74 win, snapping the Ladyjacks 38-game home winning streak and ending an undefeated record in WAC play.

And then there was WAC Vegas. The Vaqueros knocked down 13 3-pointers in a first round win over Seattle. The following day, UTRGV gave ACU a rude welcome to WAC Vegas with a 73-70 win. UTRGV hit nine 3-pointers in that second round game. It was exciting basketball. Taylor Muff, Sara Bershers, Brooke Jessen, and Jena’ Williams all played lights out late in the season for UTRGV.

But, per college basketball, people will come and go these days. Gone is leading scorer Taylor Muff to graduation. Sara Bershers transferred. Brooke Jessen is now at ACU. And on and on it goes.

But, head coach Lane Lord went and got an in-conference transfer and some other key pieces. And the Jena’ Williams returns for UTRGV. And this is Williams team in 2022-23.

Obviously, the goal this off-season was to improve the squad. With inter-conference transfers Iyana Dorsey from Tarleton and Aaliyah McMillan from UT Arlington, the team certainly has promise.

But, losing the majority of its scoring still leaves a lot of questions. And in 2022-23, the team may continue to struggle. 

Kacee Kyle played over 20 minutes per game for UTRGV in 2021-22. Courtesy UTRGV Athletics.

Head Coach:

Lane Lord (5th Season)

At UTRGV:

51-65 (.440)

Career Record:

500-249 (.668)

2021-2022 Season Record:

14-19 overall (8-10 WAC)

Post Season:

Lost in Quarterfinals of WAC Tournament to Utah Valley

Departures:

Iva Belosevic – Graduated

Sara Bershers – Transferred to UAB

Brooke Jessen – Transferred to ACU

Maria Llorente – Transferred to Florida Southern (D-II)

Jessica Martino – Grad Transferred to Delaware State

Taylor Muff- Graduated

A’nnika Saenz – In Portal

Valeria Tapia – Graduated

Mariya Taser – Transferred to Ranger College (Juco)


Newcomers:

Iyana Dorsey 5-6, So., Transfer (Tarleton State)

Aaliyah McMillan 5’8”, [R] Fr., Transfer (UT Arlington)

Key Returners:

Halie Jones 5-10, Jr., G

Kacee Kyle 5-9, So., G

Jena’ Williams 5-8, Jr., G

Projected Starting Lineup:

1- Iyana Dorsey

2- Kacee Kyle

3- Jena’ Williams

4- Brianna Sanchez

5- Burcu Soysal

Breakdown:

Frankly, the team has very little depth in the post. Most of the players that graduated or transferred out during the offseason were forwards, leaving somewhat DI-inexperienced players like Brianna Sanchez and Burcu Soysal with huge shoes to fill.

The vast depth at the guard position is exciting for the team. Jena’ Williams is the focal point and will have the ball in her hands a lot. Kacee Kyle returns after averaging 26.1 minutes per game in 2021-22. There is a lot to like about the guard line. Lane Lord added Tarleton transfer who averaged over 10 points per game last season for the Texans. Keep an eye on Arianna Sturdivant who can knock down shots from the perimeter. 

However, the Vaqueros may struggle against taller squads. 

UTRGV
Arianna Sturdivant is another returner for Lane Lord and the Vaqueros who can knock down shots from the perimeter. Courtesy UTRGV Athletics

Youth Movement

UTRGV is also very young, with 11 underclassmen.

Lane Lord mentioned Zariah Sango, Mele Kailahi, and Mariam Traore among others to keep an eye on in 2022-23.

Sango is a 6-4 forward who averaged 11.0 points and 12.5 rebounds at Clarendon College last season. Kailahi is another JUCO transfer. The 5-8 guard averaged 11.8 points and 8.3 rebounds at Hutchinson Community College. And Traore is out of Clarendon College as well where she averaged 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds last season. 

The future is bright for the Lady Vaqueros, but the present isn’t as promising. 

Low Ceiling, High Reward

This team is going into the season with very low expectations. In my preseason poll, I had the team at 11th out of 13.

Although the team is expected to struggle, this lack of pressure could result in the team shocking some of the big hitters in the conference.

Considering the squad has some great talent like Iyana Dorsey, Jena’ Williams, Halie Jones, and others, any one of these players could show out on any given night and earn an upset or two. 

This is something the Lady Vaqueros were able to do last season as well. They had five upset games in 2021-22, including two wins against Tarleton and a huge win against SFA in the final regular season game of the year. It was the only loss in WAC play for the otherwise undefeated Ladyjacks. 

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Areas of Improvement: 

The Lady Vaqueros had their struggles on the offensive end last season. UTRGV averaged just 60.9 points per game. The Vaqueros tied for 11th in the conference in that stat. Scoring and offensive improvement was surely the focus in the offseason. With the addition of Iyana Dorsey, expect the Lady Vaqueros to play through her on that side of the court. Dorsey averaged 12.1 points per game as a freshman at Tarleton and led the team in scoring. And she is sure to have an immediate impact on a team struggling to put the ball through the net. 

UTRGV also had issues holding onto possession. The team was 11th out of 13 in turnovers with 18.3 per game. Obviously, limiting turnovers is an extremely important part of having success on offense. If they are able to get a handle on how many times they give up the ball, their other offensive numbers should improve as well. 

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