Freshmen backcourt making a difference for Oklahoma women

Shaina Pellington, seen here against Oklahoma State on Jan. 20, has been a cog in the starting lineup her freshman season, as has fellow freshman guard Ana Llanusa. (Photo: Associated Press)

NORMAN — How did Oklahoma’s first practice go?

Name and face recognition was important.

After ushering out a large senior class, the Sooner women’s basketball team consists of seven freshmen, which on Tuesday were shepherded by just two seniors, no juniors and three sophomores.

It’s a young group with plenty of new personalities.

“It’s so crazy. I feel like their big mom,” redshirt senior guard Gileysa Penzo said. “They kind of outnumber the upperclassmen, so it’s just cool to see their dynamics. They’re my sister’s age, so it’s like I’m playing with my sister.”

OU is reaching for its 20th straight NCAA tournament berth after last year’s 16-15 season. Maddie Manning and Gabbi Ortiz — two veteran guards — moved on after graduation, along with center Vionise Pierre-Louis.

Those three could anchor the lineup most nights.

But the Sooners also received major contributions from guards Shaina Pellington and Ana Llanusa, who formed Big 12’s top freshman duo a year ago and are shouldering bigger leadership roles now.

“We’re all super young,” Pellington said. “Everyone has a leadership role on this team.”

Llanusa sat out the first workout as a precaution due to a minor injury, but has spent the better part of the past year learning to be more assertive within the team. She had a presence Tuesday while walking the sideline with a small clipboard.

“The missing link for her was giving herself permission to learn that [leadership],” Coale said. “She’s been fantastic.”

As roommates, Llanusa and Pellington’s room together has enhanced since they joined the program.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Pellington said. “We know how to push each other.”

Ijeoma Odimgbe, a senior, and sophomore Mandy Simpson are OU’s lone returning post players. Without a dominant presence inside, expect the Sooners to play faster, Coale said.

As practices continue, developing that style will be emphasis with newcomers, four of which can play guard positions.

The freshman class includes Westmoore product Jessi Murcer (guard), Ardmore product Clary Donica (forward), Broken Bow product Aspen Willitson (center), Nydia Lampkin (Palm Bay, Florida; forward), Madi Williams (Fort Worth; guard), Taylor Robertson (McPherson, Kansas; guard) and Tatum Veitenheimer (Windthorst, Texas; guard).

“Age is nothing but a thing,” Coale said. “The thing I can tell right now is these guys are really willing to learn. They want to be coached and that’s fun.”

OU women's basketball

Key dates

Sept. 25: First practice

Nov. 5: Home exhibition against Northeastern State (Time: TBD)

Nov. 9: Regular-season opener against Western Kentucky

Dec. 19: vs. Connecticut at Lloyd Noble Center

Jan. 2: Big 12 opener vs. Texas Tech at Lloyd Noble Center

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