ERIC NEWMAN Editor of Sun Sports
The Northern Arizona women’s basketball team knew the roster was going to be a little different this year. The Lumberjacks have graduated five seniors, many of whom have been regular owners and contractors for several years.
The Lumberjacks brought in Montana Oltrogge, a graduate transfer from Idaho State, before the season to bolster some depth, but they still needed to fill out the rest of the roster. So, a class of five freshmen came to Flagstaff.
Mary McMorris, Taylor Feldman, Audrey Taylor, Sophie Glancey and Saniyah Neverson each bring their own skill set to the team. And each freshman was tasked with showcasing those talents early in the season.
Outside of a successful 2021-22 campaign that saw the Lumberjacks reach the Big Sky Conference Tournament Finals and get just one win out of the NCAA Tournament, Northern Arizona has a goal of getting back there.
To do this, the Lumberjacks are relying on their new players to contribute out of the gates.
“Many of our freshmen are ready to play at the elite level we expect them to be,” Lumberjacks coach Loree Payne said.
Four of the freshmen scored double-digit points in a 111-44 win against Park University Gilbert on Sunday. Neverson was the only freshman who did not play, as he was battling illness on the bench. Glancey started, as he has done a few times before, and the others have all had big roles.
During the first part of the season, they are having fun with the Lumberjacks.
“I think it was really exciting,” Glancey said. “And it’s a good experience, because a lot of freshmen all over the place — like a lot of my friends — they don’t have the opportunities that we’re getting here, because we have so many freshmen. So it’s a unique opportunity to come in and play early.”
Many of the freshmen make up the majority of the second unit. Everyone knows they have to keep the same production when the appetizers are out. As such, they will become even more important as the Lumberjacks eventually move into conference play.
“It puts us in a really good position,” McMorris said of playing the young group, “because we follow those who are older than us and they show us pretty good examples of what to do.”
It hasn’t always been easy. Payne said the coaching staff had to be more patient in teaching than in years past, when there were so many veteran players. Even in Sunday’s easy win, the freshmen had 10 turnovers.
This was one of the benefits of playing against an NAIA school, however, as it allowed northern Arizona’s greener players to overcome some mistakes and better learn the system before some big games.
Payne said the freshmen have been working well with the staff, which also has some new faces as assistants, to have early success.
“I think they’ve done a great job of balancing keeping the standard high, but also teaching a lot,” she said.
The Lumberjacks were scheduled to face three Power Five teams in as many days, starting Thursday, at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. Northern Arizona has already played two Pac-12 opponents — Arizona State and Arizona — to start the season.
The tough competition will hopefully turn the young Lumberjacks into even better players as they eventually enter the second half of the season and into conference. So far, the freshmen seem to be adjusting well.
“We came to things with a positive energy, and I think that showed in the way we played and the way we interact,” Glancey said.