ST. GEORGE — Breaunna Gillen and the rest of the Trailblazers are ready for the challenge.
Utah Tech senior Breaunna Gillen was named by coaches as the preseason WAC Player of the Year, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2023 | Image by Utah Tech Athletics Media Relations, St. George News
Last season Utah Tech’s women’s basketball team was a manifestation of its mascot, going where no Trailblazer squad had gone before.
Utah Tech got its first-ever Division I playoff win and went 1-1 at the Western Athletic Conference postseason tournament.
The Trailblazers finished with 19 wins last season, the most in the program’s current NCAA DI era and the highest total during coach JD Gustin’s seven year tenure on the bench.
Eight total players from that squad are back this year, four of them starters. Leading the way is Gillen, named by coaches as the WAC preseason Player of the Year.
After practice Thursday afternoon on the Utah Tech campus, Gillen told St. George News that the recognition came as a surprise but it doesn’t add extra pressure on the eve of the season.
“It doesn’t really change the way I prepare,” Gillen said. “This year is the same as last year, it’s the same as any year.
“Especially this being my last year, I think it’s about going out there, leaving no regrets and playing with confidence,” she added. “I just think it’s fun and it was an honor.”
Gillen finished last year as the WAC’s second-leading scorer, averaging 17.8 points per game. She led the conference in assists (6.45 per game) and finished in the top 10 of three other offensive categories in the WAC.
The 5-foot-9 forward from West Jordan (Copper Hills High School) envisioned such a strong year in St. George after first getting recruiting interest from Utah Tech as a sophomore in high school.
“When I came here for my first official visit the coaching staff just made it feel like family,” Gillen said, adding that she was familiar with the area through team camps she went to every year.
“JD (Gustin) made it feel like family, he just had all the trust in me,” Gillen said. “He told me, ‘We really want you here, we think you are a great player and that you can do great things.’ I think that trust is what brought me here.
Utah Tech’s Breaunna Gillen, shooting a hoop in this file photo, was named preseason WAC Player of the Year, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
“They thought I could do something and be something, and I’m just thankful that I had that opportunity,” she added.
Along with the WAC recognition, Gillen was placed on the watch list for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award, given to the nation’s best player not in a so-called Power 5 conference.
Only 25 players in the country make the list and Gillen is the only player on it from the WAC.
Gillen knows that preseason awards go to individuals but basketball is a team game, and she can’t wait to play her senior season with her teammates.
“They elevate my game every day,” Gillen said. “I just have so many examples of basketball lives on and off the court. I couldn’t do the things I’m doing without them, and without them pushing me to get better.”
She added that all of the Trailblazers deserve recognition.
“They’re a whole bunch of great players and great girls all together,” Gillen said.
Joining Gillen and the Trailblazers this year will be Emily Isaacson, Maggie McCord and Amber Kartchner, all returning starters.
Utah Tech has the distinction of having two pairs of twins on its roster in the Warren (Macie and Maddie) and the Deaver (Alyson and Catelyn) sisters.
Sophomore guard Aubrey Amendala bolsters team depth along with freshmen Kastyn Young, Calyn Dallas, Caitlynn Jordan and Nicole Willardson, a 6-foot-4 post player from Richfield.
Utah Tech tips off the season at Burns Arena on Monday, Nov. 6 at 11:00 a.m. in a contest against La Verne University, a private liberal arts school in Southern California.
“We believe we’re going to win them all, that’s our mindset going in,” Gillen said. “Playing with confidence and aggression, knowing we can win and knowing how good we can be.”
In a preseason poll, WAC coaches picked Utah Tech to finish fourth in the conference. Picked ahead of the Trailblazers, in order, were Grand Canyon, Southern Utah and California Baptist.
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