Regular season begins for Dawn Plitzuweit’s Mountaineers Thursday evening

(Dawn Plitzuweit pregame press conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Seven months after being hired to lead the WVU women’s basketball team, the time has arrived for Dawn Plitzuweit to lead the Mountaineers into their first official game. West Virginia will host USC-Upstate to open the regular season Thursday at 7 p.m.

“You always wish you had more time to have more preparation. But at the same time, I am sure everybody in the country feels a little bit the same way. We’re ready and we’re looking forward to it,” Plitzuweit said.

“It is a completely different team. We enjoy being around each other on and off the court. On the court, we’re always encouraging each other and just looking out for each other and making sure we are doing things right,” said WVU fifth-year guard Madisen Smith.

Plitzuweit is leading a roster of seven returners and six newcomers. With the exception of redshirt sophomore guard Kyah Watson, who played for Plitzuweit at South Dakota, all the players are adjusting to new styles of play.

“How willing are players to make those changes and modifications? I will say this — I believe our group is very willing overall to do that,” Plitzuweit said. “At the same time, if you are somebody that has always done it one way and you have done it thousands of times one way or maybe even more than that and now we are asking you to modify that a little bit, that’s going to take some time.

“The strength of this team has to be our ability on the defensive end to put pressure on people. We can do that in a lot of different ways. Right now, we are really trying to solidify what that looks like in a half court, first and foremost.”

USC-Upstate defeated Southern Wesleyan, 69-51 in their season opener on Monday. The Spartans went 22-8 last year. Like many teams around the country, their roster features several new players under first-year head coach Jason Williams.

“They opened up on Monday the seventh so we had a chance to see that. We go back and take a look at the players that transferred in and what they did at their respective universities.”

A trio of fifth-year players figure to play prominent roles on this year’s team. Sarah Bates is a transfer guard from Georgia Tech. Smith is West Virginia’s most-tenured player. She has played in 112 games for the Mountaineers over the last four seasons, starting 107 of those contests.

“It feels like I just walked in yesterday. It flew by. It has been a great experience. I am just hoping that this last year is a great year. I am excited to get it going,” Smith said.

One of Plitzuweit’s former opponents will be in the guard rotation for the Mountaineers. Danni Nichols played four seasons at Western Illinois.

“I did play against her in the Summit League for five years. I know she has always had a really good team. They have always been really hard to score against because I know she has always had an emphasis on defense,” Nichols said.

Nichols was a three-year starter at Western Illinois. The Missouri native is excited to use her additional season of eligibility in a different part of the country and at the ‘Power 5’ level.

“I knew I wanted to finish using all my eligibility because I can’t play forever. I think I would regret not using my fifth year. It was very late when I realized I wanted to transfer.

“I kind of wanted to challenge myself, push myself and kind of leave my comfort zone. I thought this would be a good move.”

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