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Women’s basketball: CU Buffs making most of summer

Despite limitations, Colorado striving to get better for next season

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne is doing her best to get the most of the players this summer.
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Although the workouts aren’t the same as in the past, Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne is still hoping it can be a productive summer for the Buffaloes.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of sports this year and caused the Buffs to conduct socially-distanced, limited workouts in masks.

Despite the limitations, Payne is striving to help the Buffs improve individually and as a team after going 16-14 (5-13 in Pac-12) last season.

“I think if your players are hungry and want to work, then you can absolutely get a lot out of that and I think our players, because they were gone for so long, our trainings have actually been really, really good,” Payne said last week.

The Buffs were anticipating a bid to the Women’s NIT when the coronavirus pandemic led to the NCAA cancelling the remainder of the season, as well as all spring sports in March. For four months, the only interaction Payne and her staff had with players was through technology.

On July 20, however, in-person workouts were allowed to resume.

In the past, the Buffs had individual or small group training by position and then would come together for team workouts. To limit the amount of people in the gym this summer, however, the team workouts are not taking place. In fact, the Buffs don’t even have the whole team in Boulder.

With the exception of Frida Formann – a freshman from Denmark – the Buffs do have all of their newcomers in town, however.

“There’s always kind of a level of excitement with (newcomers) because you haven’t seen them play in a long time, or you haven’t seen him play in person,” Payne said. “It’s really fun (having them on campus). That’s always kind of an exciting time because you get to actually get your hands on them and see what that looks like.”

Despite the unique challenges this summer has presented, Payne said the Buffs are working to set a foundation with the newcomers.

“We really want to establish how we train,” she said. “That’s always one of the goals in the summer is continuing for veterans to build on that brand of effort, being the toughest team, the most disciplined team, being the hardest working team.

“With young players, it’s about establishing that and even in these early workouts we’re trying to set a really high standard of training, even with the understanding that they’re out of shape and they haven’t been in the gym and all those things.”

The health and safety guidelines have prevented the Buffs from conducting team-bonding activities they’re used to doing in the summer, but Monica Armstrong, the team’s recruiting coordinator and special assistant to Payne, has been valuable in helping in that area.

“We’re really lucky we have Monica Armstrong on our staff, who works at developing leadership and developing communication and things like that,” Payne said. “She’s done different things on Zoom with the team. We’re continuing to work on that.”

As Payne and her staff navigate a unique summer, the foundation is in improving as a team for whenever the next season begins.

Whether it’s at the CU Events Center or on outdoor courts in Boulder – or Denmark, in Formann’s case – the coaches are urging their players to get stronger and tougher and work on their shooting.

It hasn’t been a normal summer, but the workouts have been productive for the body and the mind, Payne said.

“I think it’s been really important for our players’ mental health to be back in the gym,” she said. “A lot of these kids, their entire lives have been spent in a gym or on an athletic field. That’s who they are and that makes them sort of whole, so I could see the lift in these guys when they are in the gym. They feel good. They’re talking. Things like that are really, really good for us.”