D2 Women's Update - A Way Too Early Top 10 And More
From the opening tip-off in November to the cutting of the nets in March, the 2021-22 Division-II women’s basketball season gifted fans with five months of riveting hoops and memories for years to come.
Glenville State earned its first-ever national championship – in any sport – after defeating fifth-seeded Western Washington 85-72.
North Georgia’s Julianne Sutton eclipsed 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds on her way to earning the WBCA Division-II National Player of the Year Award.
West Texas A&M spoiled Lubbock Christian’s chances of a historic three-peat by eliminating the Lady Chaps in the South Central Regional Championship.
With last season’s moments now in the rearview mirror, let’s look at how the Division-II landscape shapes up as we inch closer to the 2022-23 season, from the top 10 teams entering the summer to five additional squads who are flying under the radar -- at least for now.
1. Glenville State
After leading the nation in scoring offense at 95.5 points a game, earning a 35-1 overall record and cruising to their first-ever national championship last season, Glenville State earns the top spot on this list. Although head coach Kim Stephens’ team will attempt to repeat as champions without their two leading scorers from last season, as both Zakiyah Winfield and Re’Shawna Stone transferred to Division-I University of Buffalo, the Lady Pioneers will welcome back two key offensive contributors, Dazha Congleton and Taychaun Hubbard. Congleton will highlight Glenville State’s returning core, as the rising-senior guard ranked third on the team with 12 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Joining Congleton in the Lady Pioneers’ new-look offense is fellow rising-senior guard Taychaun Hubbard, who started 31 of 35 games and recorded 10.9 points and 5.3 rebounds a contest.
2. Grand Valley State
Although the 31-3 Lakers fell short of their championship goals after their Final Four loss to Glenville State on March 23, head coach Mike Williams’ team will look to reignite their success with a number of key players returning to the starting lineup. Grand Valley State, which held the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense last season by allowing just 50.4 points a game, will once again be spearheaded by rising-senior guard Emily Spitzley, who paced the Lakers with 13.4 points a game and made 41 percent of her three-pointers. While Spitzley will once again lead the Lakers’ offense this season, rising-sophomore guard/forward Rylie Bisballe will make her main contributions on the defensive end. The Lake City, Michigan native -- who will play alongside her cousin, Macy, on next year’s team -- was named to the All-GLIAC First and Defensive teams last season after holding down the paint with 31 blocks and 27 steals.
3. Western Washington
After embarking on a Cinderella run and reaching the national championship game for the first time in program history, Western Washington will seek to ride that momentum into next season with a similar core of players. Among those key returners are rising-junior forward Brooke Walling, who burst onto the scene in the NCAA tournament with 17 points a game, a performance that earned her the West Regional All-Tournament MVP. Also reclaiming their roles next season are sisters Riley and Avery Dykstra, who will both look to take a larger role on the Vikings’ offense in their 2022-23 campaigns. Riley, a rising-sophomore guard, ranked third on the team with 7.5 points a contest, while Avery, a rising-senior guard, led the Vikings with 2.6 assists a game.
4. Union (TN)
The Bulldogs ranked inside the top 10 of the WBCA Division-II Coaches Poll for the last six weeks of the season, and they will certainly be back up there next season. Union, who led the nation with a 39.8 three-point field-goal percentage last season, will turn to rising-senior guard Shanique Lucas to carry its hot shooting into next season. Lucas, who surpassed the 1,000-point plateau in March, shot 42.1 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 11.8 points in her 31 games played last season. In addition to Lucas, head coach Mark Campbell’s team will add another explosive weapon to their offense, as the Bulldogs will welcome versatile rising-junior guard Lauren West to the roster. West, who transferred from Fort Hays State this April, helped lead the Tigers to a conference championship by averaging 7.9 points and 1.4 three-pointers a contest.
5. Fort Hays State
After spending the entire season in the top 10 of the WBCA poll and holding the No. 1 ranking for three weeks, head coach Tony Hobson’s team will look to continue their dominance in the MIAA next season. Although Fort Hays State will lose the aforementioned Lauren West to the transfer portal, the Tigers bring back their top two scorers from last season’s 30-win club. Returning to carry the load for the Tigers’ offense is rising-sophomore guard Katie Wagner, who helped lead her team to a No. 1 seed in the Central Region of the NCAA Tournament after averaging a team-high 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds. Rising-sophomore forward Olivia Hollenbeck will also assume a larger role on the team after making an immediate impact with the program in her freshman campaign. The Lincoln, Nebraska native trailed only Wagner with 11.5 points per game last season and led the Tigers by shooting 53.9 field goal percentage and blocking 40 shots.
After a successful 2021-22 campaign that earned them 29 wins and the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, the Eagles will head into next season with a unique mix of returning contributors and new faces. Head coach Kari Pickens’ team will be led again by rising-senior forward Annie Roshak, who eclipsed 1,000 points last season and spearheaded the offense with 17 points a contest. In addition to Roshak returning, Ashland added three transfers who can make immediate contributions. Headlining the trio of transfers is rising-sophomore forward Zoe Miller, who averaged 8.1 points and 3 rebounds a contest in her first and only season with Division-I Bowling Green. Rounding out the new additions are redshirt rising-senior guard/forward Molly Dever, who averaged 1.1 points per game in 18 games off the bench for Bowling Green, and graduate guard Maddie Maloney, who stuffed the stat sheets with 9.9 points, 3.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 steals in her 103 career games with Saginaw Valley State.
7. West Texas A&M
After knocking off archrival Lubbock Christian in the South Central Regional Championship and reaching the Elite Eight for the eighth time in program history, West Texas A&M will ride into the 2022-23 season with newfound confidence and experience. Rising-sophomore guard Karley Motschenbacher will look to emerge as one of the premier players in the Lone Star Conference next season after a scintillating NCAA tournament performance. The Moorhead, Minnesota native was named the most outstanding player in the South Central Region after averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in three regional games. Rising-senior guard Zamorye Roberts also returns to the Buffs’ starting lineup after a productive junior season, as the Portales, New Mexico native led the team with 13.2 points per game and netted a team-high 63 threes.
8. Missouri Western State
Missouri Western shocked many in the NCAA tournament by reaching the Elite Eight for the first time in 27 years. But head coach Candi Whitaker has assembled another competitive roster this offseason as she seeks to prove her team’s Cinderella run was no fluke. Although the Griffons will compete next season without graduating senior and leading scorer Corbyn Cunningham, the team will be led by a duo of rising-junior standouts who played pivotal roles in the team’s success in 2021-22. Guards Connie Clarke and Brionna Budgetts will guide Missouri Western on both ends of the court this winter, as the duo combined to average 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.2 steals in their sophomore campaigns. The Griffons’ backcourt became even more formidable following the addition of rising-junior transfer point guard Johnni Gonzalez from Division-I UC-Santa Barbara. Gonzalez appeared in 27 games for the Gauchos last season and averaged 4.5 points and 2.8 assists a game.
9. Cal State East Bay
The Pioneers put together an impressive 2021-22 season that earned them 24 wins and an NCAA tournament run to the West Region final. However, they will look to repeat that performance next season without head coach Shanele Stires, who recently accepted a position to assume head coaching duties at Cal Poly Luis Obispo. While Cal State East Bay is searching for a new leader, an abundance of talent remains on the Pioneers’ roster. Among those skilled returners is rising-junior guard Mina Tameilau, who recorded 15 or more points in six games last season while averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds a contest. Pairing with Tameilau in the Pioneer’s backcourt will be fellow rising-junior guard Zhane Duckett, who led the team with 94 total assists to go along with her 9.8 points and six rebounds a contest.
10. Azusa Pacific
Although the 25-win Cougars underwhelmed in the NCAA tournament, falling to Cal State East Bay in the second round, they will have a chance to redeem itself in 2022-23 with three key starters returning. Leading Azusa Pacific on offense next season are rising-junior guard and forward Paige Uyehara and Molly Whitmore. The two sophomore standouts started in every game they appeared in during the 2021-22 season and contributed on both ends of the floor -- combining to average 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals a contest. In addition to the young core of Uyehara and Whitmore, rising-senior Alex Lowden will bring much-needed leadership to the Cougars. The Glendora, California native -- who started in each of the Azusa’s 29 games – showed off her versatility last season with 7.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. The guard also provided stellar shooting from the perimeter, shooting 42.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Five under-the-radar teams
1. Charleston (WV)
The Golden Eagles achieved something that no other Division-II program was able to accomplish last season: defeating Glenville State. After knocking off the then-undefeated Pioneers 80-77 in the Mountain East Conference Championship game, Charleston will look to find success again in 2022 behind one of the top players in the conference. Rising-senior guard Markyia McCormick will lead Charleston on offense after reaching double-digits in points in 28 of her 32 games last season. Joining McCormick on the Golden Eagles’ offensive attack next season is rising-senior forward Clarissa Francis, who netted 11.5 points per game off the bench in 24 games played last season.
2. Valdosta State
The Lady Blazers donned the glass slipper as a seven-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament after defeating No. 2 seed Tampa, No. 3 seed Lee and No. 1 seed Union, and they are poised to shock the nation again in 2022-23. Rising-junior guard Tamiya Francis will lead the backcourt after starting every game last season and averaging 9.5 points and 3.6 assists a contest. Rising-sophomore guard Taylor Searcey will complement Francis in the backcourt after scoring 7.9 points a game off the bench.
After punching its ticket to the NCAA tournament as a No. 7 seed in March, Catawba will roll into next season with an experienced and versatile roster. Rising-senior guard/forward Janiya Downs will serve as a formidable force on both ends of the court, as she did it all for the Indians last season with 10.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.3 steals a game. Fellow rising-senior guard Lyrik Thorne should emerge as one of the top scorers in the South Atlantic Conference after leading the Indians with 15.1 points a contest in 2021-22.
4. California University of Pennsylvania
After holding its opponents to just 51.6 points a game last season, the Vulcans will once again serve as an intimidating defensive force in the winter with several returning starters. Rising-senior forward Dejah Terrell will look to repeat as a WBCA All-American after ranking second in the conference with 18.6 points and recording a team-high 9.7 rebounds. The Reading, Pennsylvania native will also contribute on the defensive end for the Vulcans, as she totaled a conference-leading 79 blocks in 30 games played last season.
5. Black Hills State
Although the Yellow Jackets failed to reach the NCAA tournament this spring, head coach Mark Nore’s squad will pose a threat to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference behind a promising backcourt star. Rising-senior Danica Kocer is on the cusp of emerging as one of the premier players in the conference after recording a team-high 13.1 points a contest and reaching double figures in points in each of her final 14 games played last season. Dubois, who earned Second-Team All-RMAC honors, poses a threat on the defensive side of the ball, as she racked up 41 steals along with 3.3 rebounds a game during her junior campaign.
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