Texas freshmen Gaston, Holle, Chevalier embrace key bench roles

Taylor Hawthorne

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan's February 26 print edition.

Coming into the 2020-21 season, Vic Schaefer knew the lack of depth in the Texas women’s basketball team was going to force younger players to grow up fast.

“Our bench is going to be three freshmen all year long,” head coach Schaefer said in a Jan. 23 teleconference. 

The classification doesn’t stop the newbies from making a difference on the court when their number is called. New to the college game amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the freshmen had to adapt quickly and take on new roles to fit Texas, which has meant being the next player off the bench. 

“Relentless,” junior forward Charli Collier said in a Jan. 23 teleconference. “These freshmen — they’re just not afraid. You can't come out here and be scared. Even in practice, they take ownership, they talk (and) they’re leading.”

Three Texas freshmen have made an impact coming off the bench all season. Forward DeYona Gaston earned Big 12 Freshman of the Week on Jan. 4. Guards Shay Holle and Ashley Chevalier made names for themselves as consistent role players and defensive specialists.

“You never know when it's going to be your time,” Holle said in a Feb. 10 teleconference. “You never know who's going to wake up with a cough that day and can't practice (or) can't play. We've definitely had some injury issues on our team. You just never know what’s going to happen, so it would be a shame if you weren't ready the day that your name was called.”

Before Gaston’s season-ending shin injury, she played in 11 games and led the team with 21 blocks on the year. Gaston was a pivotal piece to the offense with junior forwards Audrey Warren and Lauren Ebo missing extended time to injuries and ineligibility, respectively.

In times of foul and injury trouble, junior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor said the freshmen control what they can, notably in the win against Iowa State on Jan. 23.

“I knew they were prepared for this moment, and they came and did their job,” Allen-Taylor said in a Jan. 23 teleconference. “They didn’t do what was outside of their game. They kept it simple, and it helped us big time.”

The impact these freshmen bring doesn’t end at the finish of a game. Points, rebounds and assists are a plus, but the role the freshmen play in the development of the team starts in practice. 

“It sets a different tone when you have freshmen who are trying to stay in the drill, not just get that one rep in and get out as quickly as they can,” Chevalier said in a Feb. 10 teleconference. “So I think when you have freshmen setting that tone, it just builds from that because you have other people seeing ‘OK, even my freshmen are doing this.’”

For the young players to continuously improve, Schaefer tells them to remain in the picture in every aspect of the sport — practice drills, meetings and games. Staying focused on that big picture is something Chevalier tries to emphasize. 

“It's really about staying engaged,” Chevalier said in a Wednesday teleconference. “It's really easy to look at your situation and try to feel bad for yourself or hoping you had more minutes, hoping you had more opportunities. But it's really important to stay locked into the moment and stay locked into your team.”