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Colorado’s Mya Hollingshed, right, plays defense against Allysa LaFontaine during women’s basketball practice last week.
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When the coronavirus pandemic led her to going back to Houston this spring, Mya Hollingshed couldn’t remain idle.

Her grandmother noticed that and bought a basketball hoop for the family driveway.

“It honestly meant a lot,” Hollingshed, a senior on the Colorado women’s basketball team, said this week. “I’ve never really had anything like that in our driveway.”

Of course, playing on an outdoor hoop with her little cousins couldn’t recreate a game-like atmosphere, but the hoop served its purpose.

“It definitely kept me sane during quarantine, for sure, because I didn’t want to stay inside all the time,” she said. “It was fun for me just to play outside with my little cousins and just get shots up. They rebounded for me and I just kept getting shots like that so it was actually kind of fun.”

As much as she enjoyed that time, Hollingshed, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward who averaged 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds last season, is grateful for some form of normalcy right now. She and her CU teammates are nearly two weeks into preseason practices, and it’s been a spirited and competitive environment.

“We’re an extremely competitive group right now and so they’re getting after it,” head coach JR Payne said, “but we always try to keep it pretty fun as best we can.”

Hollingshed said the practices are more competitive than in previous years. That could stem from the personality of the group, or it could be a product of the pent-up energy created by the coronavirus shutdown. It could also come from the fact that the Buffs don’t have an actual schedule in front of them, making it easier to focus on themselves.

BOULDER, CO – October 14, 2020: Head coach JR Payne during Colorado’s first women’s basketball practice of the 2020-21 season (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)

Regardless, Payne and the Buffs have been a tight-knit, competitive group this fall.

“We’re really trying to spend as much time as we can with them,” Payne said. “That’s something that’s been really great. In the stretching circle sometimes before practice, I’ll ask someone to share why you’re feeling blessed today; what you’re thankful for today. I think when you can do that pretty often, it helps us stay focused on the fact that we are blessed and we are very fortunate.”

Getting tested daily for COVID-19, wearing masks in practice and preparing for a season that is not only shortened but won’t be played in front of fans (at least until January), is not ideal for CU. But, Payne said, “There’s a lot of things that we should be thankful for and we really try to make sure our team stays focused on that.

“We’re just being very intentional about enjoying each other. Maybe that was because we were apart for many months or maybe it’s because we just have a really great group of young women on our team right now.”

That perspective is helping the Buffs prepare for what they believe can be a successful season.

“Everyone’s doing a good job of just taking what they’ve learned and all just using their experience,” Hollingshed said.

As one of two seniors – along with forward Annika Jank – Hollingshed has come in emphasizing defense and expanding her offensive game, but also leading.

“She’s exuding calm,” Payne said. “When things are chaotic, she brings them together. There’s no roller coaster, really. She’s keeping pretty level-headed and helping her young teammates prepare.”

Schedule update

The Buffs will play a 22-game Pac-12 schedule, as opposed to the usual 18. Each team will play the other 11 twice each. Payne likes the balance that will create and the Buffs aren’t shying away from that expanded conference slate, despite the fact that they are just 20-76 against Pac-12 foes the last five years.

“People that choose to come to the Pac-12 choose to play in the best conference,” she said. “The fact that we’re adding four more of those games is very difficult but it’s what we all signed up for.”

The Buffs are still finalizing their three-game non-conference schedule. At this point, they know they will play Air Force and Denver. Dates are not locked in, but the Buffs will travel to DU. The location of the Air Force game has not been determined, but Payne said it might be on the road.

Finding an opponent and open date for the third game has been difficult, but the Buffs are trying to get Colorado State, Northern Colorado or Wyoming on the schedule.

Not done yet?

Although Hollingshed is a senior, the NCAA is giving players an extra year of eligibility, so she could return next year.

“I’ve thought about it,” she said. “I haven’t really made a decision yet. I’m talking to academic coordinators and everything about, of course, master’s programs and what would be the next step, but as of right now I’m just focused on right now and just worried about what we’ve got coming up next.”