This time a year ago, Alexis Hyder was a little nervous about how she would fit in on the college level, just like most freshmen.
Hyder was a highly regarded prospect when she arrived at North Texas and was told that she would carry a heavy load right away. The fact that the message was delivered by Mike Petersen, who had just taken over the program in the offseason, didn’t make the situation any more comfortable.
A year later, the way Hyder handled it all is one of the big reasons the Mean Green believes it can improve significantly in the second season of Petersen’s tenure, beginning with tonight’s season opener against Missouri-Kansas City at the Super Pit.
Hyder started all but one game of her freshman season and averaged a team-high 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
“Sometimes you just have to adjust,” Hyder said. “Coach talked to me about it when I first got here and said that there are good and bad things about being a freshman who starts. I realized that it was a great opportunity but it is also a big responsibility.”
Hyder, a 5-11 forward, is a better player for having gone through the process and will be an anchor of what UNT’s coaches and players say can be a vastly improved team.
UNT finished 11-19 a year ago while playing under its third coach in as many seasons. Hyder and Loryn Goodwin, who has since transferred, were UNT’s top two scorers as freshmen last season, when the Mean Green lacked depth and experience.
UNT will have more of both of those key components this season with the addition of eight players who were either on the roster and did not play or are new recruits.
UNT also will have senior guard Hannah Christian, who has been recovering from the effects of concussions, available tonight.
“I like the way the people who are returning and the people who are new have fit together so far,” Petersen said. “We are longer than we were a year ago, we are more athletic than we were a year ago, we are faster than we were a year ago, we are a better defensive team than we were a year ago and we have more depth than we had a year ago, for sure. All of that is good.”
UNT also has a better grasp of what Petersen wants to do. After playing for Shanice Stephens, Karen Aston and Petersen in consecutive seasons, the comfort level UNT’s players have with their coach and his system could make a big difference.
“Coach Petersen has a difficult system sometimes,” Hyder said. “The players who are back comprehend it better. It’s not like he is teaching a whole new team a whole new system like last year. We are a step ahead.”
The same can be said of Hyder, who was pretty good right off the bat, despite a lack of experience on the college level. She came off the bench in her first game to post a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Texas State.
Hyder went on to score in double figures in 23 games and posted a game-high 25 points in a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the Mean Green’s opening game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
UNT will make the move to Conference USA this year and was picked to finish 12th in the 16-team league in the preseason coaches poll.
UNT’s hopes to exceed those expectations will rest partly on Hyder, whom teammates credit for being a hard worker while maintaining what senior guard Laura McCoy described as a goofy, fun-loving personality.
“She has matured since her freshman year,” McCoy said. “She has continued to grow and learn, which is important. We are going to be counting on her.”
Being counted on as a freshman — or even a sophomore — can be challenging. Petersen thought Hyder handled it well last season and will benefit from the experience.
“There is no replacement for the value of having played those minutes and having been really relied upon offensively,” Petersen said. “That is a big adjustment. Some players never make it. They are complementary players but can’t handle the accountability that goes with being depended on to deliver offensively every night. Alexis has handled that really well, especially as a freshman.”
The success Hyder enjoyed last season only motivated her to improve and help her team do the same. Petersen said Hyder’s footwork, offensive abilities facing the basket, defensive prowess and understanding of the importance of consistently playing hard have all improved as she heads into her sophomore season.
Hyder credits that improvement largely to the comfort zone she found after being thrust into a key role as a freshman.
“Starting last year gave me confidence,” Hyder said. “I know that I can play here. Last year I was timid to start. Once I got going and realized that it’s just basketball, I realized that I fit in. I could just go play.”
Hyder did just that and was named to the All-Sun Belt third team.
“Alexis got playing time,” McCoy said. “That is what you need to build confidence. You need to get out there and go through it. A lot of freshmen don’t get that opportunity. She did and will take a step up this year.”