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The development of Cate Reese’s leadership will be an X-factor for Arizona women’s basketball

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Arizona Photo by Simon Asher/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

As Arizona women’s basketball prepares for the new season with seven newcomers, the biggest question about fifth-year forward Cate Reese is her recovery from surgery to repair a shoulder separation after last season. The second is how her leadership will impact a team that’s integrating such a large group.

The shoulder recovery is coming along.

“I got cleared two Mondays ago,” Reese said on Sept. 30. “So it’s just been a really long, mentally challenging process, especially because I’ve never gotten injured before. But I’m happy I went through it just being able to know that I’m tough enough to be able to get through something like that. But I’m doing a lot better now. Obviously, I can get back into contact finally. That felt like it took forever but I’m excited just to be able to be on the court with my teammates again.”

Being on the court again allows her to put more of those leadership skills into practice. Arizona has lost leaders the past two seasons with the graduations of Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas. Reese is now the longest-tenured Wildcat on the court, so her voice will become even more important. That’s the element of her leadership that she thinks has come the furthest.

“I think when I first got here, I was leading by example,” Reese said. “Obviously on the court playing hard, diving for balls. I think now, I’ve kind of transitioned into more of a communicative role. I’m definitely talking more. I feel more confident telling people they need to be here on defense, they need to be there, and we need to box out. So I think definitely been able to be more of a vocal leader.”

While captains have not been named at such an early point in practice, head coach Adia Barnes sees Reese as someone she needs. During Reese’s freshman and sophomore seasons, it was Dominique McBryde who Barnes credited with that vocal leadership in the post. It may be time for Reese to have that role.

“It’s always going to be Cate’s team,” Barnes said. “This is Cate’s program. Cate’s been the face of this program for so long. I rely on her.”

Reese has scored 1,528 points and grabbed 774 rebounds in her four years at Arizona, putting her in the top 10 in both categories. She’s one of only three players in program history with at least 1,500 points and 750 rebounds, joining Barnes and Ify Ibekwe last season.