Senior leadership? Antonia Anderson and Jaedyn De La Cerda have been there, provided that.
In the ever-so-strange COVID-19 era, the two University of New Mexico women’s basketball standouts have an opportunity to do it again in 2021-22.
Anderson, De La Cerda and the rest of the Lobos opened fall practice Monday, starting preparations for their 2021-22 season which tips off with a Halloween exhibition game against Western Colorado. Tuesday is the first official day of practice but the Lobos reserved enough preseason workout time to get things started a day early at the Davalos Center.
“A lot of new faces but they’re picking things up quickly,” Anderson said. “This freshman class coming in is way better than any we’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m excited to see what this team can do.”
There’s reason for optimism. The Lobos are defending Mountain West regular-season champions and have four senior starters returning in Anderson, De La Cerda, Shaiquel McGruder and LaTora Duff. MWC Sixth-Player of the Year LaTascya Duff is recovering from non-basketball-related surgery and hopes to return in time for conference play.
UNM also has a deep group of talented young players who coach Mike Bradbury hopes will benefit from working with seniors who tasted success last season.
“They have a lot of knowledge about what we do and what it takes to win,” Bradbury said, “but A.T. (Anderson) and Jaedyn really just need to bring intensity every day and be examples to everyone else. They don’t have to do anything extra just because they’re fifth-year players, just be themselves.”
Anderson and De La Cerda, like all of last season’s college basketball seniors, were granted an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic. Both opted to return to UNM because they wanted a chance to play in front of Lobo fans again — and because they believe UNM has a chance to win.
“Playing for a conference championship and getting to an NCAA Tournament,” Anderson said, “those are our primary goals.”
Nonetheless, playing a “super senior” campaign gives Anderson and De La Cerda a chance to post impressive individual numbers in UNM’s record book.
For example, De La Cerda has scored 893 points in her Lobos tenure and Anderson has 827. Both are within reach of the program’s 1,000-point club, which currently has 22 members.
“That’s definitely a goal,” De La Cerda said.
One could argue that super seniors have an unfair advantage when it comes to career records, but the abbreviated 2020-21 season was a distinct disadvantage. UNM played just 20 games last season instead of the typical 30-32 played in a season. Had the Lobos played a full schedule, Anderson and De La Cerda might well have reached the 1,000-point plateau.
Both players have other notable statistical milestones within reach.
Anderson has 507 career rebounds and can become the 18th Lobo to amass both 1,000 points and 500 boards. She already ranks fifth on UNM’s career blocks list with 123 and needs 36 to surpass Porche Torrance for second place. (Jordan Adams’ total of 344 blocks remains well out of range).
De La Cerda, meanwhile, has 121 made 3-pointers in her career and needs eight more to break into the Lobos’ top 10. She also can improve her fourth-place standing for career free-throw percentage. De La Cerda has hit 82.4% of her foul shots and trails only Julie Briody (87.2%), Katie Montgomery (85.5%) and Lauren Taylor (83.4%).
“To me, they’re like free points,” De La Cerda said, “so you need to take advantage of them. I stay after practice every day and shoot until I make 10 in a row. Sometimes, if I feel good, I’ll stay until I make 20 straight.”
De La Cerda said she pays little attention to statistics once the season begins, but she does have a significant objective for her super senior season.
“Conference player of the year,” she said, “that’s my goal.”
Anderson, meanwhile, has a chance to etch her name atop the program’s career list for games played. She’s appeared in 115, 19 games behind Angela Hartill’s standard of 134 set from 2005-09.
“I didn’t know that,” Anderson said. “Coming to UNM, I really didn’t have expectations for myself, so being able to say I played the most games would be pretty cool.”
“That’s a record I always look at,” he said, “because it means you were durable, you were good enough to play a lot of games and you were a winner. That’s one to be proud of.”
NOTES: Anderson, who is recovering from knee surgery, was recently cleared for full contact and considers herself between 90% and 100% recovered. … Freshman Rebeka Renczes suffered a broken left thumb during last week’s workouts and is practicing on a limited basis. Bradbury said Renczes could be fully cleared by next week. … Freshman Aniyah Augmon (non-COVID illness) missed practice Monday but is expected back this week. … After Western Colorado, the Lobos have a second exhibition game on Nov. 4, against Eastern New Mexico. The regular-season opener is Nov. 9 vs. Lamar.