With a new school year about to get underway, students are preparing for what will be an academic grind, but for many student-athletes, the athletic grind has already begun. For the University of Utah women’s basketball team, their work began in June with summer strength and conditioning. As the Utes prepare for their 2017-18 season, they not only have the past to learn from and reflect on, but also upcoming opportunities to take advantage of to help make them the competitors they want to become.

The Utes are led by third-year head coach Lynne Roberts, who has an overall record of 34-30 and  a 13-23 record in the Pac-12 over two seasons. Going into her third year at the helm, Roberts has more confidence in her team than she expected to have when she first took over the program.

“The second year has always been the hardest for me in my career,” Roberts said. “For whatever reason, the second year is always difficult, but I was surprised with how good we were. I wasn’t expecting us to be that good that quickly. There were a lot of really good things that happened last year that I’m really excited about.”

Last season, Utah rolled through its non-conference schedule going 12-0, but in conference action the team lost more games than it won as the Utes went 5-13. Roberts believes her team wasn’t mentally ready for the step up in competition they were going to face after opening the season with success. That is something the team will focus on improving this year.

“We’re playing in the best conference in the country,” Roberts said. “Five teams made it to the Sweet 16 last year. That means that’s at least 10 games on our schedule against high-caliber opponents, and we just weren’t mentally ready for it. Part of that is scheduling, which is a science you have to schedule years in advance, and if I would have known we would have been as good as we were, I would have scheduled differently, but you just don’t know. To prevent being mentally unprepared again, we need to have a good offseason and become more consistent on offense.”

The Utes will have the opportunity to develop more as a team and gain experience on the court before the season starts when they embark on a trip to Italy on Aug. 5-15 to play against professional teams.

“I really feel like we’re a close team already and going to Italy is just going to make us stronger,” said senior Emily Potter. “We will have opportunities to get to know the freshmen more, participate in team building activities and develop team chemistry that I know we can put on the court.”

Students and fans can meet Potter and the rest of the team at Fan Fest on Aug. 19. Students can also attend home games for free with their student ID this upcoming season.

“We want students to know that there is a difference between perception and reality,” Roberts said. “Too often people compare women’s basketball to men’s. Our girls are big and strong, they’re talented, and they have skill. It’s exciting to watch, and we appreciate everyone who comes out to support and we hope to see more. Home court advantage is a real thing, and we can’t wait to get back out on the floor and show everyone who we are.”

s.funk@dailyutahchronicle.com

@scottfunk0

Scott Funk is currently interning as a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He completed an internship with Cumulus Media before writing for The Globe at Salt Lake Community College. He also recently completed an internship with ESPN 700.

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