Since Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011, it’s become the best conference in women’s basketball. Oregon State, Oregon and Stanford have been ranked in the top-25 almost every year.
During that time, Colorado hasn’t had a winning record in conference play since 2012-2013. For head coach JR Payne, closing the gap between the top teams in the conference and CU comes down to the players.
“You have to have talent to be competitive in a league like this,” Payne said. “You have to have a group of ladies who want to pour in and want do more and want to give more, that are truly competitive and want that competitiveness.”
In a Zoom interview with CU BuffsCountry in late May, Payne said she has the players to make that leap in the conference.
This season, Coach Payne will have the first senior class that she recruited to Colorado – Mya Hollingshed and Annika Jank. Payne believes Hollingshed is the key to Colorado’s success.
“We told her a lot of times as you go we go. And that’s a blessing and a curse. You have to understand that your teammates follow you and it’s important that you know that and lead them in a way that is best.”
Along with Hollingshed and Jank, Colorado had two freshman that became regular contributors last season. Charlotte Whittaker, a 6-3 forward from New Zealand started ten games last season. According to Payne, Whittaker was injured for most of the season, but still found a way to contribute.
“The sky is the limit on what she’s going to be able to do for us moving forward. Especially when she can stay healthy,” Payne said. “One of the biggest things she needs is lower body strength. She just needs a healthy amount of time on her body and to get stronger.”
Jaylyn Sherrod started as the point guard 23 of the 30 games this season.
“It’s difficult to be a point guard in the PAC-12. It’s difficult to be a freshman in the PAC-12. We asked her to be a freshman and a point guard in the PAC-12, playing a lot. I think we asked a lot of Jay and she was capable of doing everything we asked of her.”
Men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle says the biggest change in basketball players comes between their freshman and sophomore years. Payne agrees, but with one caveat for this season.
“I definitely believe that. However, that usually factors in a great spring and a great summer. Which we are not getting this year.”
Payne said Sherrod spent most of the quarantine period working out in Birmingham, Ala., but is back in Boulder now. Whittaker is in New Zealand, and with the ban on international travel, Payne doesn’t know when Whittaker will be allowed back into the country.
Whittaker’s fellow Australasian Emma Clarke will not be back in Boulder next season. Clarke transferred to Texas Tech after her sophomore season.
With the loss of Senior Quinessa Caylao-Do and Clarke, Colorado will lose their top two three point shooters from last season. Payne hopes to replace that production with two players that they will be adding next year – freshman Frida Formann from Denmark, and JUCO transfer Madison Buford.
Payne says Formann is a skilled finesse player like most in Europe but thinks her game will translate well to the American game.
“She has a very high basketball IQ. Her mom was a national team player, her dad was a national team coach, so she’s going to bring a lot of experience as a freshman.”
Madison Buford finished top 10 in the country in scoring while at the Rend Lake College.
“Madison Buford is a great scorer,” Payne said. “Deep range 3s, I think she hit 17 more threes than anybody on our team last year. She can really score the basketball, which we need with the loss of a couple of backcourt scorers.”
Looking forward to next season, Payne expects the Pac-12 to remain the best conference in the country, despite Oregon and Oregon State graduating their seniors.
“Every year, every game is murderer’s row. I expect next year to be no different.”
She just hopes next year, the Buffs will be the ones doing the murdering.