Women’s basketball 1-0 with brand new team

In her Omaha debut, 17-year-old and four-time Cyprus national champion Elena Pilakouta prepares to fire away at a free throw. Photo by Kenneth Pancake.
Kenneth Pancake

The Omaha women’s basketball team is nearly brand new. In fact, only one of the five starters on the court Nov. 9 had played in a game for the Mavericks previously.

To them, it could not matter less.

Omaha took away a 96-69 victory at Baxter Arena against USC Upstate to open the season on Nov. 9. It was just what the team needed after their preseason game against Avila left little to be desired.

Head Coach Brittany Lange could tell the difference “immensely” in the two performances.

“They’re just all in,” Lange said after the game. “It always feels good… when they come out with that tenacity and dominance.”

Omaha took a 17-16 lead into the end of the first quarter. Then, an incredible performance followed: the Mavericks outscored the Spartans 32-5 in the second quarter. It was the largest positive margin in a single quarter for Omaha since the fall 2016. The game stayed in Omaha’s control for the remainder.

“We all wanted to go out and contribute,” said Kalen Phillips, who tied her personal best with 14 points.

“I don’t know if I’ve been a part of a team where everyone contributed as evenly as our group did,” said Lange.

Contribute they did. Omaha left only one of 11 active players with less than ten minutes of game time. Eight of those 11 played for 15 minutes or more.

In addition, Omaha’s scoring was balanced. Six players reached double-digit scoring: Rayanna Carter with 17; Kalen Phillips with 14; Elena Pilakouta with 12; Claire Killian and Sophie Johnston with 11, and Romekia Wallace with ten.

Seven players also finished with four or more rebounds. The team effort totaled 56 to USC Upstate’s 25.

“We’ve been transitioning for a little bit now as a program, and now we know (the role) we want to carve out,” Lange said. “Hopefully you guys can see we’re trying to be a little more physical, a little more athletic.”

Those in attendance saw more than ‘a little more.’ Omaha scored 54 of their points in the paint, while only hitting four trays from 19 attempts. For comparison, last year’s thriller against USC Upstate on the road featured 34 points in the paint and seven trays from 27 attempts.

“I’m really proud for my team, that was a great win,” Elena Pilakout, 17-year-old freshman center.

Pilakouta is one of many players new to the program, after extensive turnover occurred during the offseason. But to Coach Lange, it’s all water under the bridge – and the team looks forward to the future.

“We feel like we’re just scratching the surface with what this group is capable of,” Lange said. “It’s been so great to see how much this team wants it, and how selfless they are. We keep referencing last year, but it’s a new year, and we’re on to what this team can do.”

The team played Kansas State on Nov. 12 before time of publication. They continue the non-conference portion of their schedule against C-SUN on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. and then travel to Florida for the Florida International Tournament beginning Nov. 23.