A disappointing conference finish followed by an offseason of roster turnover means UNO enters this season with some new faces and not a lot of outside expectations.
The Mavericks were picked eighth in the nine-team Summit League’s preseason poll. That was based on past performance and roster attrition, but not universally accepted.
“Expectations are placed by yourselves,” UNO coach Brittany Lange said. “No one has higher expectations than what we do for ourselves. It is freeing just seeing how much this group wants it.
“You see the immense potential in some of the individuals. You know that you’re not going to be the same team a month from now and at the end of the season. That’s exciting to see that and to build with that.”
The Mavs open Sunday with an exhibition against Avila at Baxter Arena. Fans may want to grab a program to familiarize themselves with this new-look roster.
Sophomore Claire Killian is the closest thing the Mavs have to a full-time starter who returns. In all likelihood, she’ll be the lone player in the initial lineup who has played a game for UNO before.
Lange said that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After last season, the Mavs needed to hit the reset button.
“We have a really refreshed group,” she said. “Everybody’s been really competitive and done everything we’ve asked in the offseason. I like the athleticism that we’ve brought in and returned, as well as the length.
“We’re going to have a pretty balanced inside and outside game. It’s a young, inexperienced group on paper. But it’s one that’s made tremendous strides and will continue to throughout the year.”
UNO welcomes three international players in guard Juliana Chagas (Brazil), 6-foot-3 center Elena Pilakouta (Cyprus) and guard Sophie Johnston (Australia). Junior college transfers Rayanna Carter and Andi Pierce should make an immediate impact in the backcourt. And freshmen Kylie Coulter, Josie Filer and Mariah Murdie are Midwest products who fulfill Lange’s goals to become long and athletic.
No two players are the same, Lange said, giving the Mavs a lot of versatility in their lineup. The team already suffered a major setback early this week, however, when forward Jay Bridgeman was injured.
The Omaha Westside graduate opted to end last season early then have surgery after playing through pain brought on by cartilage and labrum tears as a result of avascular necrosis, which is the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply. A doctor told her she had the hip of an 80-year-old.
An upbeat Bridgeman spoke of her path to recovery at UNO’s recent media day before her injury.
“I just wasn’t ready to give it up,” she said. “Basketball is what I’m passionate about and what I love.”
Her injury at practice this week, which was devastating by all accounts and emotionally shook the team, puts her playing status in question — for this season and beyond — pending medical evaluations.
Lange was crushed by the injury. She said recently that Bridgeman is “as good as it gets” as a teammate.
“Our program would not be on this uphill swing right now if it weren’t for Jay,” she said. “She is somebody who is everything you’d want in a leader and a person. And I love that she’s a hometown kid.”
The Mavs will be without Bridgeman for Sunday’s exhibition before they open their regular- season slate at home next Friday against USC Upstate then travel to Kansas State for their first road game.