CU Buffs women’s basketball opens practice

Payne’s squad trying to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Head coach JR Payne and the Colorado women’s basketball team opened preseason practice on Tuesday at CU Events Center in Boulder.

Wearing brand-new practice jerseys and fueled by the excitement of a fresh season on the horizon, the Colorado women’s basketball team hit the court on Tuesday for its first official practice of the fall.

“Everyone’s mentally prepared, I feel like, and yeah, I think everyone’s just excited because season officially starts today,” sophomore Emma Clarke said. “I’m just excited to get up and down (the court) more and just see what the new season has to bring.”

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado sophomore Lesila Finau is competing for a starting role at point guard.

Entering their fourth season under head coach JR Payne and her staff, the Buffaloes are certainly hoping this season brings more success.

Last season, the Buffs went 12-18 and finished last in the Pac-12 with a 2-16 conference mark. They’ve had back-to-back losing seasons and Payne enters the year with a 44-50 record at CU (12-42 in conference).

The Buffs also opened practice with two big holes to fill (four-year starting guards Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson have graduated) and the task of incorporating five newcomers into the fold.

Despite some of the challenges, the Buffs hit the court with optimism on Tuesday.

“The work ethic is definitely a lot different this year,” said guard Quinessa Caylao-Do, the lone senior. “Everyone legit works out like every day, and they’re always putting in extra work. So I think it’s just exciting to see how hard the team wants to work.”

Now that practices have officially started and the season opener – Nov. 10 at CU Events Center against NJIT – is not far away, CU will crank up the work a little more.

Payne and her staff have to find someone to fill the shoes of Leonard, who graduated as the program’s all-time leader in assists.  But unlike the last four years, the point guard won’t be the focal point of the team.

“We’re going to be a much more balanced ballclub, which any coach will tell you that’s a good thing,” Payne said.

Sophomore Lesila Finau and true freshman Jaylyn Sherrod, from Birmingham, Ala., will compete for the starting job, but it’s likely both will play a lot.

“I feel confident with both and eventually someone will emerge,” Payne said. “We have two really good point guards. Both are really young, but they’re both going to play and they’re both good and they both bring different things to the table. They both have the respect of their teammates.”

Perhaps more important than figuring out the point guard position is getting the entire group on the same page.

In addition to Sherrod, guard Zuzanna Kulinska, wing Raanee Smith and forward Charlotte Whittaker are freshmen who could contribute. The Buffs also welcome back sophomore Aubrey Knight, who missed all but three games last year because of a shoulder injury.

Payne said developing on-court chemistry is the top priority during preseason practices.

“This group loves each other off the court, they are there for each other; all those things are great,” she said. “On the court … a third of our team has never played with the rest of them. So it’s about just developing that chemistry and really establishing a brand, a fearlessness on the court.”

The Buffs come into the season “significantly stronger as a team than we’ve ever been,” Payne said, and that’s because of the drive they have to be better as a team.

That drive, and a strong offseason of workouts, has created an eagerness to get rolling.

“We’re really excited,” Payne said. “Every other coach is saying the offseason has been long and wonderful, but now we’re ready to start playing. So we’re excited to get after it.”

Notable

Freshman Maura Singer, a 6-foot-4 center from Columbine High School, will redshirt this season as she continues to recover from a knee injury that forced her to sit out her senior year. … Prior to the Nov. 10 opener, the Buffs will host Regis in an exhibition on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at CU Events Center.