ARLINGTON, Texas - UTA's Costa Rica 2017 summer tour is just seven days from tipping off on the court and a pair of freshmen are already looking like they are in midseason form as practice heats up ahead of the four-game trip.
Two true freshmen make up a group of seven newcomers. Michaela Wright is a 6-foot-5 center from Columbia, Mo., while Jennifer Parker is a 6-foot-2 forward from Leander, Texas. The duo are joined by redshirt freshman Kelsey Johnson, and there already seems to be competition for playing time out of a group that isn't noticed as newcomers any longer.
"They have been sponges, which I just love," UTA coach Krista Gerlich said. "They have been soaking it all in and are doing really well and are competing hard. They haven't gotten frustrated, which is great, because they are going up against a first-team All-Conference player every day. She is teaching them lessons, but they have done a great job of competing and it is going to be exciting to see them develop along the way."
For the pair, they have both seen a big transition between what practice looked like in their high school days, with the biggest change being in the speed of the game. However, they aren't backing down from the experience around them, and see it as a challenge that they continue to thrive in.
"It is a lot of fun, there is a lot of room for improvement, but I have so many leaders on the team and coaches to help me out," Wright said. "I have learned everything from offense to defense and how to do everything so much better and at a better level than in high school. The speed of the game, and as a post, the toughness I've had to learn to be a lot tougher and stronger."
Parker mirrored Wright's feelings on the strong feel of practice and the increased level of competition between the groups, saying that the process has been made even easier by how helpful everyone has been around her.
"I have been learning on how to be more physical and stronger, where to move and where to cut," Parker said. "I have been working on how to make posting up easier. It is a lot more intense, it is really fast paced, even the water breaks are faster than anything we had in high school. The coaching staff makes it really fun, and while it is hard, I really enjoy this because they make it enjoyable."
A part of the trip to Costa Rica will be a chance for the Lady Mavericks to experience the culture of the community and give back to the nation in volunteer work, a big aspect of what it mean's to be a part of UTA's women's basketball program. For Wright, it also a chance to leave the United States for the first time as focuses on soaking up the experience.
"I look forward to getting out there and showing what I have and what we can do as a team," Wright said. "It is my first time out of the country, and I heard we will be going to an orphanage and get to experience culture, so I am really excited for that."
The Lady Mavs take the court for the first time on Tuesday, Aug. 15 when it plays the first of two games against the University of Ottawa. UTA then takes on the Costa Rican National Team on Aug. 17 and 18 to wrap up the on-the-court portion of the stay.
"I am looking forward to getting more connected, how we play as a team and how our chemistry is," Parker said. "I am obviously wanting to come home from a win and I am looking forward to my first collegiate game with these girls."
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