• Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Colorado women's basketball coach JR Payne said she likes the makeup of the Buffs' roster heading into next season.

  • Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer

    Point guard Kennedy Leonard is one of eight players returning to the Colorado women's basketball team.



With eight new players on the roster a year ago, the Colorado women’s basketball had no choice but to lean heavily on that group.

This year, the Buffaloes will have five new players. The need to use the newcomers isn’t as great as a year ago, but the competition might be better.

“I really believe this year’s freshman class can challenge our veterans,” head coach JR Payne said. “I also believe in our veterans enough to know that they’re not going to roll over.

“We’re really excited about the combination of the youth and our veterans.”

Led by all-Pac-12 point guard Kennedy Leonard and fellow senior Alexis Robinson, the Buffs are putting together a roster they hope can improve upon last year’s 15-16 finish.

The eight returners, however, will be pushed by the talented newcomers.

“Internally in our program, we talk about we don’t recruit backups,” Payne said. “We recruit players that we believe have the ability to come in and make an impact on our program.”

Payne is expecting her freshmen to do just that.

The newest addition, guard Lesila “Sila” Finau, from Dublin, Calif., signed with the team earlier this month. She had previous signed with Minnesota, but changed her mind after the Golden Gophers went through a coaching change.

In May, the Buffs signed 6-foot-4 center Kai Volcy, from New Jersey, and 6-1 forward Emma Clarke from Perth, Australia. And, in November, guard Cameron Swartz of Marietta, Ga., and forward Sirena “Peanut” Tuitele of Chico, Calif., signed with CU.

“We got a little bit of everything,” Payne said of the new class, which has arrived on campus this month. “A lot of versatility, good size. We’re thrilled about this class. We’re overjoyed about this group, and not just basketball. They are high character, high academic, selfless, hard-working. They’re a great group.”

Individually, the newcomers have all mentioned the “family” feel they got when visiting the Buffs. That’s an important part of Payne’s philosophy not only in recruiting, but within the team itself.

“We want it to be the bedrock and the foundation of everything that we do,” she said. “It’s great to build a relationship before you get here, but once they get here, our focus turns to now maintaining and growing that relationship even further and helping them form relationships with their teammates.”

Payne saw the Buffs grow together as a group throughout last season, especially during the final third of the season when they played their best basketball.

In the next few months, she’s hoping the group comes together even more, not only off the court, but on the court.

“It’s going to be one unit pushing each other,” she said. “The veterans helping to grow and challenge and bring the young ones along. The young ones having this energy to push and challenge themselves. I think the combination of that dynamic is going to be really beneficial for all of us.”

On the mend

Sophomore Aubrey Knight, who had shoulder surgery after last season, is doing well in her recovery, Payne said. Knight missed some games late in the year because of the injury.

“She’s ahead of schedule,” Payne said. “She got cleared to do pretty much everything except contact. She’s shooting 3s for the first time. That was sort of her last thing. She looks great and she’s grown a ton of leg strength.”


The Buffs leave Aug. 12 for a 10-day trip to Italy, where they will play three exhibition games and enjoy some team-bonding time. The NCAA allows teams to do a foreign trip once every four years and this will be CU’s first since going to Italy in 2013. … The Buffs are still finalizing their non-conference schedule, but the marquee home game will bring North Carolina to Boulder in the back end of a home-and-home set. Colorado State will also play in Boulder this year, and the Buffs will have a road test at Miami.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33