Photo Credit: John Peterson

Nebraska Women’s Basketball Has Big Goals, Keeping Day-to-Day Focus

September 27, 2022

Nebraska women’s basketball started preseason practice this week, officially kicking off the start of a new year in which the Huskers will look to build on their success from a season ago.

The team’s first exhibition game is still nearly five weeks away, and the regular season opener comes a week after that. Head coach Amy Williams said in Tuesday’s press conference that there’s excitement among the group for what’s ahead.

“We had a great first practice yesterday and just really, really excited about the potential of this group and the way that they are going to come together,” Amy Williams said in a press conference. “So just excited for the upcoming season. Lots of good things on the horizon.”

Yesterday’s practice came without on-court contribution from one of the team’s top players, however. Last week, the Huskers announced that guard Sam Haiby will be out for the season with a leg injury. Haiby, who was set to enter her fifth season, was a major contributor for the Huskers since her freshman year in 2018 and was a starter each of the past three seasons. She was a second team all-conference selection in 2020-21 and an honorable mention in 2021-22.

Williams said while the team was “heartbroken” to learn of Haiby’s injury, they’ve channeled those emotions into something positive.

“This team, it’s almost like there’s a little pep in their step because they’ve just talked long and hard about what Sam Haiby has done for this program and the way that she has completely elevated our program,” she said. “They feel like we absolutely owe it to her to find ways to just continue to raise the bar for our program and they are really excited to play hard and come together kind of in her honor and out of respect for her.”

According to Williams, the injury will require surgery. She said that the possibility of the guard returning to the floor for Nebraska next season has not been determined, as the team is giving Haiby time to process that she won’t be playing this year.

“In her individual case, she really wanted to play this team and this year,” Williams said.

Haiby has still been a contributor to the team as a leader, with the head coach saying her voice was one of the loudest in the team’s pre-practice meeting yesterday.

On the court though, the longtime starter’s role will be a big one to fill. The team started three guards last season, with Haiby, Jaz Shelley and Allison Weidner filling those spots down the stretch. Ruby Porter started two games with Haiby injured, but she left the team in the offseason to return to Australia. The team still has an assortment of guards with varying levels of experience, such as returning contributors Kendall Coley and Kendall Moriarty, and newcomers in transfer Maddie Krull and freshman Callin Hake.

The Huskers also will have two players — Trinity Brady and Nailah Dillard — who are returning from injuries. Brady played in 17 games her freshman year, but suffered an ankle injury that ended her season early on in 2020-21 and hasn’t been healthy enough to play since. Dillard, a Texas Tech transfer, missed the entirety of the last two years due to hip and knee injuries.

As of now, Williams doesn’t know who will take the open starting spot, but said that the whole team should be aiming to step up.

“We know that it’s not going to be one player coming in to step in and take her place but it’s going to be contributions from our entire roster and everybody having to kind of elevate their game,” Williams said. “And we’re really still making those determinations.”

Shelley, Weidner, forward Isabelle Bourne and center Alexis Markowski fill out the rest of the projected starting lineup, having been the starters last season. Weidner and Markowski were freshmen last year, with the latter being the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-conference selection. Williams said she asked Markowski in the offseason where she wanted to improve heading into this season, and her finishing was a focus. She shot 49% on 2-pointers last season.

Williams said that she’s put in a lot of work to improve over the offseason, particularly in her footwork.

Bourne and Shelley are the veterans of the starting lineup. Shelley was the team’s leading scorer, also earning a second team All-Big Ten nod along with a media selection to the conference’s all-defensive team. The head coach says she may have the ball in her hands more often this season with Haiby out, praising her basketball IQ and skills as a floor general.

Shelley will also be a leader for the team this year according to Williams, along with Bourne and Haiby.

“Jaz, Sammy and Izzy have been outstanding leaders,” she said. “I think they’ll continue to do so. I think, you know, initially when you’re brand new into the program, it’s really hard to kind of understand where leadership is needed, but after one year in our program, I think Jaz is really comfortable and confident.

Moving forward, Williams said the team has some “telescope” goals they’d like to accomplish this season but she wants the keep the focus on the “microscope” — taking things day by day and getting a little bit better.

“We’re just emphasizing that process over outcome and just having fun with it,” Williams said. “To me, if every day we’re walking off the court and I’m seeing those smiles on their faces and they’re playing with joy and playing for each other then we’re heading in the right direction.”

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