How UT Women’s Basketball is handling lost players due to COVID-19, injuries

Taylor Hawthorne

Vic Schaefer took over the Texas women’s basketball program on April 5 in the midst of a global pandemic. At the halfway point of his inaugural season, the combination of an entirely new coaching staff with limited preseason practice is rearing its ugly head.

The Longhorns breezed through the opening portion of their schedule, starting on an 8–1 run and scoring over 100 points in two games. Despite the fiery start, an eye-opening 92-58 loss to West Virginia and other close losses exposed the disconnect between Schaefer and his young team. Sophomore guard Celeste Taylor said in a Jan. 14 teleconference the team is still getting familiar with Schaefer’s style of play.

“It’s a new system for all of us, although we’ve been working on it for a long time, we gotta get it to click,” Taylor said. “We got to work harder at the things we aren’t good at … just the little things that we need to do better as a team.”

Two months into the season, the Longhorns have yet to practice with all 12 players at one time, be it from injuries or COVID-19.

“If y’all could come to my practices, it is somebody literally every day that is out of practice. It is like that every week,” Schaefer said. “If a kid walks in and sneezes wrong, they immediately go and have COVID testing and they’re out for the day. That is a miserable way to live, much less a miserable way for someone to coach.” 

Injuries have defined the first half of Texas’s season. Taylor missed three-straight games in late December with a right ankle injury. Junior forward Audrey Warren has missed six of the past eight games due to concussion protocols. Freshman forward DeYona Gaston was lost for the year with season-ending shin surgery.  

COVID-19 has also put a monkey wrench in this season countless times. The week of Jan. 10, Texas had two separate games postponed before finalizing Kansas as an opponent for Jan. 14. Postponed games and opponent changes have forced the team to stay on its toes, junior forward Charli Collier said.

“With COVID, you have to adjust on the fly,” Collier said. “This whole year has been crazy, but I feel like it’s a learning experience for everybody, and it’s teaching teams to just be ready for whatever happens.”

Schaefer credits some of the instability on the court to an inexperienced team. Seven of the Longhorns’ 12 players are new to Texas, and the majority are underclassmen. The youth at times is obvious, Schaefer said in a Jan. 22 teleconference.

“We have depth issues. We’re a very young team,” Schaefer said. “Our depth is freshman, and it will be that way the rest of the season. We’ve got to be smart.” 

Despite the problems infecting this season, the progression of the team sparks optimism in the coaching staff, Schaefer said. 

“I think this is the evolution and the process of getting a new team,” Schaefer said. “By no means do I think we are over the hump now, but they’ve proven to themselves that if they’ll do what we’re asking them to do, they’re good enough.”