The women’s basketball world around Nebraska head coach Amy Williams is changing.
Still months away from her eighth year leading the Huskers, it’s been an eventful, significant offseason. Two of the most productive players to play under Williams departed the program. A new assistant entered for the second year in a row. And on a larger scale, two more west-coast schools with quality programs joined UCLA and USC as future Big Ten members.
Of course, the coach’s focus remains on her current team. Nebraska is coming off its third straight postseason appearance, last year’s being a somewhat disappointing WNIT Super 16 run. The Huskers are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament, still having a number of key contributors from their 2021-22 appearance on the roster.
Williams said the offseason focus has been on helping players “max out” their individual skills, developing areas that need growth for each player. Along with that, continuing to build trust and relationships has been an emphasis. The team’s summer trip to Greece helped in that regard.
“The thing that we really benefit from the most is just those young women being able to experience something life-changing like that together, and then just being able to come home and have those shared experiences,” Williams said. “It just really cements some of the relationships that we really will depend on to be solid for our team to be capable of reaching what its max capacity is this year.”
The roster is led by the two returning All-Big Ten honorees — fifth-year guard Jaz Shelley and junior center Alexis Markowski. Most bench players return, along with a couple of other starting guards last year in senior Maddie Krull and junior Allison Weidner.
Weidner only played 13 games in 2022-23, averaging double-digit points on 54% shooting before suffering a season-ending knee injury. She didn’t play in the team’s exhibition games in Greece, but was in uniform. Williams expects her to be ready for the start of the upcoming season, and is “proud” of how the guard has approached the recovery process.
“She’s attacked the rehab and recovery just like you would expect her to, like she has everything else,” Williams said. “Just wanting to attack it head-on… It’s always a positive thing as a head coach when you feel like you’re having to pull the reins back rather than kind of trying to spur a kid along.”
Meanwhile, four players left the team in the offseason, three doing so with eligibility remaining. Highlighting the departures are guard Sam Haiby, who played her fifth and final year last season, and forward Isabelle Bourne, who opted to return home to Australia instead of taking a fifth year.
Those two are among the top 25 in program history in career points scored. Former guard Hannah Whitish is the only other player to top 1,000 points while playing her whole career under Williams. The coach made clear there’s no replacing either, as they both built up strong and unique legacies at Nebraska. The team’s offseason additions can help make up the production, however.
The lone transfer to join the Huskers is Darian White, who spent four years starring at Montana State. Twice she was the defensive player of the year in the Big Sky Conference, and averaged double-digit points every season.
Three freshmen also arrive to the program, and all could make an immediate impact. Williams said guard Logan Nissley is one of the best perimeter shooters she’s ever recruited. The other two newcomers are forwards Natalie Potts and Jessica Petrie.
Williams described the former as “unorthodox” and stronger than she looks. The latter didn’t play in Greece, just joining the team for the first time on the trip after playing for Australia in the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup. With relatively less proven talent in the frontcourt beyond Markowski, the two could see significant minutes early.
One other new face with Nebraska now is assistant coach Julian Assibey, following Tom Goehle’s retirement earlier in the offseason. Assibey served as an assistant at Florida and Montana State previously, and Williams called him a “home run hire” and praised his positivity.
These changes are fairly new for Williams. Until the 2022 offseason, she hadn’t made an assistant coaching change with the Huskers. Then, Chuck Love resigned after a suspension and Jessica Keller entered prior to last season.
Williams, describing herself as a “huge learner,” has been able to find advantages in those shifts.
“There are definitely new challenges and I think the positive thing that comes with that is that there are new ideas, new energy, new ways of looking at things, just verbalizing things a little different,” she said. “And I think that helps people kind of stay fresh and not get comfortable.”
On the court, Williams said she saw team defense as a place needing to improve through the trip to Greece. The Huskers have well-regarded individual defenders such as Shelley and White, but great overall defense takes more than that.
“Working together as a team and being able to bring that together and get everybody on the same page is going to be critical,” Williams said. “And maybe it isn’t quite where we need it to be as we head into the beginning of a very challenging nonconference schedule.”
The nonconference slate is highlighted by games against Creighton and Kansas, the latter having knocked Nebraska out of the WNIT last season.
Nebraska’s conference schedule will feature challenges against some of the top teams in a Big Ten that will only be getting deeper in coming years. Starting with the 2024-25 season, UCLA, USC, Oregon and Washington will join the conference. All four of those programs participated in some form of postseason play in 2022-23 and have strong histories. Williams is ready for the challenge.
“The quality of competition in the Big Ten conference just continues to go up and up and up,” she said. “Ultimately, that’s where we want to be. To be the best you have to play the best.”
Things look different from when Williams first started at Nebraska, and more changes await. She said she’s learned a lot through seven years with the program, with the help of veteran coaches beside her such as softball’s Rhonda Revelle, volleyball’s John Cook and soccer’s John Walker.
Mainly, she’s learned how to not get too wrapped up in her strong competitive spirit and remembering that the relationships built are the most important thing.
“Just different mentors and coaches and co-workers that have been able to kind of just remind me about keeping the main thing the main thing, and continuing to keep the human element and that relationship part of things first and foremost,” Williams said. “It’s possible to be competitive and to be your best and still be yourself.”