ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They will get a fairly glamorous summer vacation, but first they have to work for it.
The four incoming freshmen on this year’s University of New Mexico women’s basketball team have been getting a crash course in collegiate hoops this month. With the Lobos heading off for a 10-day summer trip to Italy in early August, the newest players have a lot to learn in a short period of time.
“It’s so intense,” freshman guard Cherise Beynon said. “It’s a different style of play and a totally different workout, especially with (strength coach Molly McKinnon). The first week I really felt lost.”
Since then the freshmen have done an admirable job of cramming. Three of the four look prepared to play during UNM’s four-game tour in Italy, and all four appear likely to earn significant court time during the coming season.
“I think they’ve raised the level of competition,” Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez said. “Our returning players have clearly improved, but these freshmen are pushing them. They’re going to make an impact.”
Beynon, Laneah Bryan and Kenya Pye already have begun to look at home in five-on-five drills and intrasquad pickup games. Jayda Bovero has been limited by a foot injury but is steadily recovering and participated in scrimmage competition Monday.
Though their heights and on-court strengths vary, all four players are guards. They fill positions of need after guard Sara Halasz and wing Deeva Vaughn completed their eligibility last spring. Sophomore guard Alex Lapeyrolerie also will take a medical redshirt season after undergoing surgery in May.
But after a few weeks of summer practice, Sanchez and UNM’s returning players are convinced the freshmen will provide more than just depth.
“They were all stars on their high school teams,” Sanchez said. “Obviously, things are different at this level but we needed impact players, and I’m confident these kids can fill that need.”
Beynon, a 5-10 shooting guard from Las Vegas, Nev., has been particularly impressive thus far. She’s rivaled senior Antiesha Brown for scoring honors during five-on-five drills and has shown a quick, smooth shooting stroke from 3-point range.
“Cherise doesn’t hesitate,” Sanchez said, “and she’s been filling it up.”
Playing at the wings and taking a shoot-first mentality is new for Beynon, who played primarily point guard on her prep and club teams.
“I’m so used to bringing the ball up and being a distributor,” Beynon said, “but I definitely don’t mind going to the wing and looking for my shot.”
Sanchez said UNM “got lucky” by adding Beynon during spring’s late signing period. She was also being pursued by UNLV, Boise State, Cal Poly and Northern Arizona, but committed shortly after attending last season’s UNM-Fresno State game at the Pit.
“I knew right away,” Beynon said, “but I had to wait a couple days, keep the suspense up before I called (Sanchez).
“Actually, my mom didn’t make the trip, so I needed to talk to her first.”
Bryan committed even later after a dominant senior year at El Paso’s Franklin High School. The 5-6 guard was asked to score and averaged more than 21 points per game, but she figures to see more point guard time at UNM.
“At this level everyone has to be a scorer,” said Bryan, who helped Volcano Vista win a state title as a sophomore before moving to El Paso with her family.
“We’re playing at a fast pace, so everyone does everything. But it doesn’t matter who scores. I’m more than happy to play lockdown defense and get people the ball in the right places.”
Pye, a 5-8 shooting guard from Tallahassee, Fla., has flashed a nice shooting stroke at times. She’s been even better on the defensive end.
Long and quick, Pye reminds Sanchez of former Lobo standout Brandi Kimble during her freshman season.
“Kenya can flat-out defend,” Sanchez said. “She’ll get time just because of the way she plays defense.”
Bovero, a 5-11 wing player from Syracuse, Utah, is the most physical of UNM’s freshmen. Sanchez expects her to be a factor from the perimeter and attacking the glass.
“Jayda can shoot and is a very good rebounder,” Sanchez said. “She’s played against some of the best in the country on her club team and at national team tryouts. She’s not going to be intimidated.”
Bovero’s availability in Italy remains questionable, Sanchez said, but the ongoing summer workouts figure to pay dividends for all of UNM’s freshmen early in the regular season.
“You have to be careful about burnout,” Sanchez said, “so we gave the whole team June off. But the extra work they’re getting now should really give the freshmen a head start in our system.”
Bryan said she’s actually enjoying what amounts to a difficult summer job.
“It’s really intense, but that makes it really fun,” she said. “Basketball’s an intense sport.”