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'We expect to win the whole thing.' Nevada women aim to overachieve this season

Nia Alexander and the Wolf Pack women were picked to finish eighth in the Mountain West in the preseason poll. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada women's basketball team was picked to finish eighth in the Mountain West in the preseason poll, but at least that'd better than last season, Wolf Pack senior Nia Alexander figures.

"That's fine because last year we got chosen dang near last," Alexander said. "Tenth, which is worse than this year. But it's okay. Like Coach (Amanda Levens) said, they're not with us in practice every day when we're running and when we're building camaraderie and when we're studying the plays. They're not there. You can't expect other people to have the same vision you have for yourself. Our job this year is to go execute what we have set out for ourselves, and just like last year we’ll prove them wrong.”

The Wolf Pack finished fifth in the MW last season, overachieving preseason expectations, but the goals are lofty this year.

“We expect to win the whole thing,” Alexander said.

The team returns 14 players while welcoming five newcomers. All-Mountain West selection Da’Ja Hamilton is back along with veterans Alexander, Amaya West, Megan Ormiston and Kenna Holt. The Wolf Pack also added Kylie Jimenez, a transfer from Portland State who was named the MW newcomer of the year.

“I look at our team and I think we have eight starters,” said Levens, entering her fifth season as Nevada's head coach. “We have people that can play a lot of minutes for us and could lead us in scoring on any given night. And I think that's exciting.”

Levens said she didn't pay much attention to the MW preseason poll, which featured six of the league's 11 teams getting first-place votes, perhaps a precursor to how much parity there is in the conference. She's taking a more micro-level approach to the season.

“Our goal is to try to win every game that we play," Levens said. "You have to take it one game at a time. For us, it's up to us to prove people right, or prove them wrong. We have that opportunity. And preseason polls to me don't have a huge impact on the way that we do things, and it's based on maybe last season and what people think from last season. I think for our team, we know who we are and I think we know what we're capable of. In order not to finish eighth, you have to go out there and win one game at a time. For us, we have higher goals and we're going to go out every day and practice and try to compete and get better and give ourselves an opportunity to get the best possible finish that we can in our conference season.”

Alexander said she was planning on hanging it up last season, but with the Wolf Pack finishing in fifth in the MW standings before falling to Fresno State in the MW Tournament quarterfinals, she knew she wasn’t ready to say goodbye. She opted for a second senior season, allowed by the NCAA because of COVID-19's impact on the 2020-21 season.

“I think my time being here, we've kind of had different people," Alexander said. "But this year, we have a lot of the same group that we had last year. So building on what we did last year but with the same people, that's only going to propel us even further than we already did. We have good pieces that have been added on. We're all just excited to see how we all continue to grow together and trust each other and hopefully accomplish something great this year.”

Jimenez, a two-time All-Big Sky third-team honoree whose sister, Alyssa, was already a member of the Wolf Pack, is the biggest addition. She said being the MW newcomer of the year doesn't add any more pressure.

“It’s an honor getting it, but I still have to prove myself and I think I'm here to help the team in any way I can,” Jimenez said. “If I get that in the end, then that's what that means. But I'm here to just really help the team do whatever we need to reach our goals in the end.”

Added Levens: “I think she's a winner. She's the only player on our roster that's played in the NCAA Tournament. She started every game of her college career. I just think that speaks to her consistency. She's a great floor leader. She really elevates her teammates and makes everybody around her better. And then she can also score as well. I think she has a high basketball IQ. She's been extremely consistent since she's gotten here in Reno. And we're really excited to add her to our team. I think she's definitely helped our team improve overall since she's been here.”

Nevada will host its first exhibition game against Fresno Pacific on Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. Until then, Levens said the the Wolf Pack has work to do, although she's pleased with her team's togetherness entering the year.

“A competitive advantage for us is the way that we work as a unit and we talk all the time about it's not the best individual player or players that win basketball games because you see it all the time," Levens said. "And it was funny in recruiting. I was telling our team that when you watch players you’re recruiting and they're the best player on the floor and their team doesn't win because it's a team game and there's so much that goes into it that's beyond one individual player. And for us, we just really want to rely on our strength as a unit and be the best possible group of five every time we step on the court.”

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