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Alyssa Ustby reflects on banner season at North Carolina, eager for what's ahead

May 20—Alyssa Ustby recently completed her junior basketball season at the University of North Carolina. The Rochester Lourdes graduate had her best season yet and with it was named first-team All-ACC and honorable-mention All-America. Ustby was also named to the ACC All-Academic team for the third straight year.

The 6-foot-1 forward averaged 13.2 points (51% field-goal shooting), 8.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game on a team that finished 22-11 and lost 71-69 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Ohio State. Ustby is one year away from likely being drafted into the WNBA.

POST BULLETIN: In terms of your team, how do you look at this past season?

USTBY: I never look at a season that doesn't end in a national championship as a failure. They're all steps to success. This was another step in an entire story and an entire journey that our program is on. I think we have set ourselves up well for next year.

What in particular makes you feel optimistic about the 2023-24 season?

With all the incoming freshmen we have (recruiting class ranked fifth nationally), the transfers we having coming in (including former La Crosse Aquinas McDonald's All-American Lexi Donarski, a Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year at Iowa State University), plus having Carmichael Arena more filled with passionate fans than ever, it is a great time to be a member of this program.

The North Carolina fan base has gone from not so great to rabid in the last two years. What's that been like?

When I was a freshman, we barely had a student section at our games. Now our student section sells out all the time and we are turning students away. We had a line of fans once this season that went two blocks out the door. We had to turn some students away because it was full. There is just so much excitement right now.

North Carolina's record was better in 2021-22 and you went further in the NCAA Tournament that season than this one. Which team was better?

Our schedule was a lot tougher this year (leading to more non-conference losses) as we realized the importance of playing tough games early rather than having the cupcake games we'd played before at the beginning of the season. This year, we played the Michigans, the Oregons, the Iowa States.

You've gone from second-team All-ACC in 2021-22 to first team this season. Where was your biggest improvement?

I'd say it was my ability to rely on my teammates. My teammates were trusting themselves and me. You don't do any of this alone. From my teammates and coaches, to my family and support staff, everyone has invested so much in me. I wouldn't have come even remotely close to landing where I have without any one of them. They are all so important. That is something I've come to realize and reflect on.

What part of your game are you hoping to improve going into your senior season?

Getting better at ball handling and being able to distribute and be more of a perimeter player. I'll always have my bread and butter of a mid-post and high-post game. But I want to challenge myself to create more stuff off the dribble.

What is the most fun thing you've done this month?

I would say that happened (Thursday, May 11). All of us girls on the team who lifted weights (that day) — we had some girls out of town and we don't have our newcomers yet or our transfers — so all five of us who were here were lifting together. Then we sat in the locker room and talked about this and that for over an hour, then we all hopped in my car and drove (23 miles) to Cary, N.C., and had lunch. We were all screaming out songs the entire way in the car. Those are the moments that I am going to remember the rest of my life, more than a score of any basketball game. I love my teammates.

There are two star athletes from Rochester on the University of North Carolina campus right now, you and Century graduate and UNC junior baseball player Mac Horvath. You were an honorable-mention All-America choice this year and Horvath is likely to be at least that. Are you and Horvath in much contact?

I go to a lot of Mac's baseball games and he is at so many of my basketball games throughout the season. I am always supporting him. We manage our own schedules, trying to watch each other play. We connect once in a while, whether that be in person or by text. We make sure each other is doing OK.

You are a three-time all-academic choice in the ACC. How difficult is it to maintain that level of excellence during the season?

It's incredibly challenging. Again, I couldn't do it without my teammates, coaches and my family. No matter how you've played in a tough loss to Virginia Tech, you still have to come back and study economics when you get home. Or I might have three pages left of a presentation that I have to give in front of the class the next day. School doesn't stop, But having a support system that always keeps me going helps a lot.

What was the most satisfying win you had this season?

I would say either of our wins against (top-15 ranked) Duke, whether it was at Cameron Stadium or at our place. I don't ever want to lose to them, at Carmichael or Cameron. I had an IV drip in my arm before one of them (Jan. 19) when I was feeling like I'd been hit by a bus, I had the flu so bad. But I was able to play despite that. (Ustby played a team-high 39 minutes and had 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting, with five rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in that game).

There is a strong chance that you get drafted into the WNBA after this next season. There is also a strong chance that Byron graduate and 6-foot-5 Kansas State University star center Ayoka Lee is taken in the same draft. How would that grab you?

If that happens, we're going to have to get a picture taken together. That would be incredible.