Sweden’s Werth has bright future with UAlbany women’s basketball

Freja Werth during a Tuesday, September 29, 2021 UAlbany women's basketball practice at SEFCU Arena in Albany. (Michael Kelly/The Daily Gazette)

Freja Werth during a Tuesday, September 29, 2021 UAlbany women's basketball practice at SEFCU Arena in Albany. (Michael Kelly/The Daily Gazette)

It’s become routine for head coach Colleen Mullen’s UAlbany women’s basketball program to include multiple players from Sweden.

Freja Werth, the Great Danes’ newest player from the country, could prove to be the best of the bunch.

“She’s so dangerous because she can score in a variety of ways and she can change the game defensively,” Mullen said of the 6-foot-1 Werth, a 19-year-old who has previously played in the top women’s league in Sweden and for the country’s national teams.

UAlbany’s roster for the 2021-22 season that starts Nov. 10 against Hofstra includes returning starters Ellen Hahne and Helene Haegerstrand from Sweden, and Werth seems likely to start her college career coming off the bench for a Great Danes program that brings back four starters from last season. Werth, though, was a “bright spot” during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage earlier this month, and has shown flashes of the all-around offensive game she possesses during practices. For a Great Danes program that struggled to score last season, Werth’s ability to score in a variety of ways seems likely to earn her minutes right from the start of her college career.

“She can score from anywhere on the court and she’s a great defender,” said Haegerstrand, who is the Great Danes’ longest-tenured Swedish player as she enters her third season with the program. “So wherever she gets the ball, she just needs to get in her head that the shot is hers, the drive is hers — and, then, if the extra pass is there, it’s there. But she needs to be a threat, which she is.”

Mullen and Werth’s teammates said the freshman perimeter player needs to be more assertive on the court. At times, Werth looks too much for the shot of others; Hahne and Haegerstrand said they both had to learn to look for their own shot more once they shifted from playing in Europe to the United States, too. Hahne said, though, that UAlbany’s offense has changed to “play a little bit more like the European style” this preseason, with a heavier focus on spreading the floor and ball movement. 

The Great Danes will benefit, though, once Werth looks more often for her own shot.

“We want her to take the ball to the basket,” Hahne said.

Werth said she’s continuing to adjust on and off the court. Due to issues related to obtaining her visa, Werth missed most of the team’s summer workouts and didn’t arrive at UAlbany until mid-August. A past injury to her left knee has somewhat limited Werth during the preseason, but she said the issue is “nothing that affects” her long-term prospects with the Great Danes.

“It’s been really good,” Werth said of her first months at UAlbany, where she’s undecided on a major. “I really like it here. Everyone is very welcoming.”

Werth said the presence of Haegerstrand and Hahne made the decision to attend UAlbany an easier one, and that both have helped her a great deal. Hahne and Werth actually attended the same high school in Sweden, but are a few years apart in age. 

“It’s been so nice to have them here,” Werth said.

While Haegerstrand, Hahne and Mullen pointed toward Werth needing to look more for her own offense, Werth said the largest adjustment she’s making this preseason is growing accustomed to the “tougher” style of play in college basketball.

“It’s more physical,” Werth said. “But, on the other hand, it’s way faster in Europe.”

UAlbany is coming off making an appearance in the America East Conference semifinals, and the Great Danes have more depth than they’ve had in Mullen’s first three seasons leading the program. UAlbany can afford to bring Werth along slowly, but Mullen sees a bright future for the player.

“Every day,” Mullen said, “she’s getting better.”

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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