Once defensive stalwarts Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams graduated and went to the WNBA, Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier knew that they had to step into a new leadership role.
Samuelson is used to knocking down three-point shots and Collier is used to working hard on the court and abusing defenses with her unique skill set, but becoming the leader is something new for both of these seniors.
“Pheesa (Collier) is so nonverbal,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said at the American Conference Media Day. “Lou (Samuelson), her personality is not very verbal. They are not vocal kids.”
Auriemma said that he is excited to see the two seniors blossom into their leadership roles as the season progresses.
“You’re not going to change Pheesa that much,” Auriemma said. “She’s going to go out and get a double-double. She’ going to play her butt off and that’s not going to change. She’s been like that since day one. You can count on her and you know you can count on her.”
Auriemma said that Lou Samuelson was able to learn more about the team while she was recovering from her ankle surgery.
“I think that sitting out most of the spring and the summer,” Auriemma said. “has allowed her to look at the team and look at the game from a coach’s standpoint instead of a player’s and she’s really learned a lot about how to be more demonstrative, how to guide people into certain things.”
For Lou Samuelson, part of being a leader, is being there for the freshman, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, during the entire season.
“I like what I see from them,” Samuelson said. “I’m going to continue to support them and hopefully get them through and get them to help this team as much as they can.”
Samuelson remembers what it was like for her as a freshman and trying to get through the Huskies rigorous practices. She said some days she felt like she took five steps forward and some days, took 10 steps backwards.
“It’s a different feeling,” Samuelson said of the atmosphere in practice. “Because you feel like you’ve worked hard your whole life. You feel like you trained, but it is just a different level and it’s a different intensity that you’ve never experienced before.”
Samuelson said the biggest difference this year, in terms of leadership, is that it is more defined than in years past.
“We’ve always been in a role where people look at us,” she said. “But we always had Gabby (Williams) and Kia (Nurse) last year. So, for me and (Collier) especially, this year we’ve had to step up and really become that leadership.”
That has entailed the two organizing pick-up games and being there for their teammates and helping them improve their game.
Nurse and Williams were not only the leaders of last year’s team, but top defenders in the country as well. The team must find a way to fill their void. Collier said that the team has been working on their defense as a unit.
“We don’t have someone who can just step up and stop someone by themselves,” Collier said. “So, we really need to play as a team and know our rotations.”
Collier said that stepping into a leadership role this season is something that she is looking forward to before graduating.
“For Katie Lou and I, this is our last year in college and school,” Collier said. “We are really in the adult world next year. We are going to have a lot more responsibility than we’ve ever had.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.