Joe Dodson, Contributing Writer
Redshirt-junior forward Madison Hattix-Covington returned to her hometown in Texas after last season’s end. She spent the summer grinding early in the morning to beat the heat with her dad and trainer, determined to set the standard.
“We’re up early in the morning outside,” Hattix-Covington said. “I know our neighbors didn’t like it, outside dribbling and shooting.”
Women’s basketball is hard at work preparing for the upcoming season. Head coach Beth O’Boyle said she is impressed with her team’s determination to get better after losing in the Atlantic 10 championship game last season.
Usually, the offseason consists of a structured schedule of weight training and practice. Due to COVID-19, players had to hold themselves accountable for staying in shape. With eight new teammates, the returning players wanted to set the tone.
“They were leading by example,” O’Boyle said about her upperclassmen. “I’m excited that when we got here and the newcomers were here, there was already an elevated level of play.”
VCU has eight returning players, including three-time program scoring leader Tera Reed. The senior guard averaged a career-high 15.2 points last season, helping her get a second consecutive All-A-10 selection.
“Being their last year, they have a lot to prove coming out on the court,” Hattix-Covington said. “You can really see it in the workouts.”
Hattix-Covington said it has been easier to get back into the swing of things compared to previous years, largely due to the number of returning players.
The team continues to try and find new ways to improve its offensive production. With the departure of two of the team’s leading scorers — last year’s conference defensive player of the year center Danielle Hammond and point guard Nyra Williams — O’Boyle said she expects freshman point guard Sarah Te-Biasu to have an immediate impact with her playmaking.
“She’s a freshman, but she plays like a veteran,” senior forward Sydney Archie said about Te-Biasu. “I’m really excited to get out on the court with her. It’s fun to play with her.”
Te-Biasu has competed for the Candadian youth national team and averaged 8 points and four assists in the 2018 U17 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
“She’s a really energetic 3-point shooter that can really make great decisions and get her teammates involved,” O’Boyle said about the 5-foot-5-inch guard.
Hattix-Covington thinks the newcomers have adapted well to the program.
“They learn fast, and they ask a lot of questions,” Hattix-Covington said. “They’re really coming into their own, and I think they’re going to be great additions to the team this year.”
Along with the five freshmen added, O’Boyle will have three transfer players that she expects to play a large role in the season. O’Boyle is hoping sophomore Oklahoma transfer Chloe Bloom, as well as redshirt-sophomore Central Michigan transfer Sam Robinson, can bring the competitive edge in the paint that Hammond provided.
“She’s a really strong post player,” O’Boyle said about Bloom. “It’s great to get her into practices.”
O’Boyle is excited about the versatility 6-foot-1-inch Robinson can bring to the team. She said Robinson can play with her back to the basket, run the floor and shoot threes. Freshman center Camila Contreras has impressed her new teammates with her physicality and ability to finish at the rim.
“She’s so physical,” Archie said about Contreras. “More physical than I’ve ever played against.”
Redshirt-junior guard and Murray State University transfer Janika Griffith-Wallace brings versatility to the position with her ability to create her own shot and play off the ball.
“She’s a fun player to watch,” O’Boyle said about Griffith-Wallace. “She makes some plays and you’re just like, ‘Whoa, did she just do that?’ She has that side to her.”
The team was happy to be back on the court practicing after a summer of uncertainty. O’Boyle and her staff had to get creative, as contact was not allowed for the first months of practice. O’Boyle held shooting competitions to keep the team engaged.
“What are some things we can do that are fun? What are some things we want to get better at?” O’Boyle said about her approach to fall practices. “How can we really enjoy being together and start to build that cohesiveness as a team?”
After going 26-3 in conference play and losing in consecutive A-10 championship games, VCU’s veteran-driven team is preparing to get over the hump.
“That piece of cutting down the nets and playing in the NCAA tournament is still out there for us,” O’Boyle said. “We are still chasing that.”
The NCAA announced in September that college basketball can resume on Nov. 25. VCU’s schedule has not been released for the upcoming season.