UTSA set to tip off first season of the Aston era


Julia Maenius

Karen Aston and Dr. Campos pose for pictures at Aston’s introductory press conference. Aston holds a career record of 285-146 and was the previous head coach at the University of Texas.

Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

The UTSA Roadrunners women’s basketball team, coming off of a 2020-21 season in which they went 2-18 and winless in conference play, are looking for a fresh start for the 2021-22 season when they tip off for the first time Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 5 p.m. in the Convocation Center. Former head women’s basketball coach Kristen Holt was let go following the 2020-21 season and taking over the job is Karen Aston. Aston, formerly at Texas, North Carolina and Charlotte, brings an elite pedigree to the table but faces a tall task ahead of her.

The ‘Runners face an uncertain roster of just who will be the team’s go-to-contributors this season. The team’s top three scorers from a year ago — Adryana Quezada, Mikayla Woods and Karrington Donald — left the team after last season, Quezada and Woods by transfer and Donald to graduation. In total, Aston will need to find a way to replace 39.1 points per game (PPG) on a team that only averaged 61.3 PPG last season. Returning for the ‘Runners this season include senior forward Yuliyana Valcheva, who averaged 10.4 PPG and 6.1 rebounds per game a season ago and junior guard Emilie Baek, who averaged 6.2 PPG and led the team in three-point shooting field goal percentage at 34.9% last season. Sibling pair juniors Charlene and Ceyenne Mass, who chipped in 4.3 and 3.4 points off the bench last season also return. 

The big story for the team this year, however, is the healthy amount of new faces Aston has brought in for her first season. All told eight players that will suit up for the ‘Runners this season are transfers. UTSA was badly in need of a transfusion of fresh blood, and Aston has accomplished that early. Hailey Atwood, Ndeye Ciss, Elyssa Coleman, Chantel Govan, Lapraisjah Johnson, Deborah Nwakamma, Jadyn Pimentel and Queen Ulabo were all brought into the program and will be asked to help spark a turning point in the culture of the program. 

UTSA is scheduled to play a 29-game regular season. Of those 29, 13 will be home games. The ‘Runners are slated for an 11-game out of conference schedule, highlighted by road trips to Minnesota, Arizona State and Texas A&M. An 18-game conference schedule awaits the ‘Runners at the conclusion of that, with conference play beginning on Dec. 30 at home against Middle Tennessee. The season will tip off on Nov. 9, against Stephen F. Austin before the ‘Runners head on the road for the first time against Abilene Christian on Nov. 13. 

The ‘Runners have a tall task ahead of them. The team was picked to finish in last place in Conference USA in a vote conducted by the league’s 14 head coaches at the conference’s media day, and there’s decent logic behind the consensus.  They will have to find a way to quickly integrate a ton of new pieces into the lineup that has no experience playing with each other. With that in mind, the early part of the season is likely to be a rough one for the ‘Runners as they get acclimated to playing with each other, but later in the season in conference play look for the team to mesh under Aston’s direction and win some games in the back half of the year. 

Aston is the key here. While the ‘Runners aren’t expected to contend for a conference title, nor should they be. This is just the first step in a much wider rebuild of the program under Aston’s control. She’s been a winner everywhere she’s coached and while some time may be needed, she’s likely to get this program back on track.