New faces could help team adjust to senior?s departure

By By Liz Frome, Staff writer

By Liz Frome, Staff writer

Today marks the beginning of the women’s basketball season, as the Utes go head-to-head with Chadron State College in an exhibition game. Several new athletes will make their debuts in red and the game will mark the start of a few players’ senior year.

Forwards Kalee Whipple and Halie Sawyer are expected to be critical elements in the Utes’ success this season.

“From Kalee and Halie, I expect everything they have and more,” said head coach Elaine Elliott. “They are our only returning kids and they both have great experience and great talent. Beyond that, they have the responsibility to carry everybody else.”

Whipple compiled a season average of 17 points and 6.2 rebounds per game for the 2008-2009 season, and Sawyer averaged 7.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

For the first time since the 2005 season, the Utes will be starting their schedule without guard Morgan Warburton. Warburton graduated last year and now plays for Gran Canaria in Spain. Upon graduating, she left the team in the hands of Whipple and Sawyer as the Utes’ only returners.

“I played with her for three years now, and it’s just kind of different that she’s not over there by my side. But I think that we’ll be OK,” Whipple said. “Morgan was a great teacher.”

Without Warburton in the mix as the go-to player to win games, Elliott said she’s expecting the team to take on more responsibility in breaking up the kind of role Warburton filled and making sure returning athletes adjust.

Sawyer said the diversity of scoring in practices has been a good sign that the Utes’ are able to deal with Warburton being gone.

“We have a lot of girls that are willing to step up and take on the responsibility of scoring and getting us those points that Morgan had last year,” Sawyer said.

Tonight’s game will likely be a warm-up for the Utes before they begin their tough preseason schedule. The Utes have been known for matching up against big, talented teams in the preseason, and this year is no different with games scheduled against Pac-10 and Big East programs.

Although Chadron State will not be the Utes’ biggest challenge of the season, the game will give sophomore point guard Janita Badon a chance to lead the team on the floor in game competition before Utah faces some of its tougher matchups in the coming weeks.

“Janita’s gotten really good,” Whipple said. “I think people will be surprised at how much better she’s gotten over the summer, how much better her shot’s gotten. Defensively, she’s really good.”

The Utes finished out the 2008-2009 schedule at 23-10, claiming the Mountain West Conference title and making it to the NCAA Tournament. Picked to finish third this year in the MWC, Whipple and Sawyer both said they have high expectations for the young team.

“Me and Halie both have an obligation to lead this team,” Whipple said. “We’re ready to play.”

Utah faces off against Chadron State tonight in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m.

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