DENVER – Entering a new level (NCAA Division III from NAIA) and a new conference (the SCAC), the 2018-19 Johnson & Wales women's basketball season will be a fresh start in many ways for coach Bob Kintzel's Wildcats.
JWU returns four players from a season ago while welcoming in eight freshmen.
Guard Salma Oros is one of the squad's top returners, coming back after starting all 22 games a season ago when she averaged 3.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per contest as a sophomore. The Buckeye, Ariz., native will be joined in the backcourt by guard Dominique Riley, the team's lone senior and top returning scorer who averaged 5.8 points, 1.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds as a junior.
All eight incoming freshmen hail from the state of Colorado, a group that includes Shaylee Andreatta (Walsenburg), Brianna Bailey (Colorado Springs), Katey Guzman (Fort Collins), Allisianna Baker-Marquez (Ignacio), Avionne Gomez Ignacio), Madi Denzel (Greeley), Dani DeCrow (New Castle) and Preshus Nash (Golden).
An NCAA DIII provisional member, Johnson & Wales enters its first season in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, providing a much more stable schedule for the Wildcats after previously being an NAIA independent.
"Excitement is an understatement. We're thrilled to be in the SCAC," said Kintzel as he enters his third season at the helm. "We're looking forward to developing some rivals and get to know the other programs, the other players and compete as well as we can at this level."
The Wildcats are an undersized group but will make up for it with an unselfish style of play and the ability to fill it up from every position on the court. Kintzel expects a much more even scoring distribution compared to a season ago, which he says he prefers since it's harder to defend.
"The good thing is they're all hungry to learn. We are gonna lack some size, but this might be one of the best top to bottom shooting teams I've ever had at any level, so that's exciting," Kintzel said. "They're picking up things really quick. Things are going well, we're progressing, we're getting better every day. They're all very, very coachable."
The Wildcats will open the season at home, Friday, Nov. 9 against Mississippi University for Women (5 p.m., Wildcat Center) before opening conference play Tuesday, Dec. 4 at Colorado College.
As one of the team's few upperclassmen Oros is embracing the chance to show many of her younger the teammates the roles and help them make the transition from high school to college.
"I just want to be able to have each other's backs and help each other on the court. We win as a team, we lose as a team, so just hold each other accountable," Oros said.