• Patrick Engels

D2 Women's Update: Future Looks Bright For Sunshine State Conference

While the state of Florida may be known for its sandy white beaches and blazing sun, its Division II women’s basketball teams should not go unnoticed.


As the November start of the season draws nearer, let's use the dog days of summer to look at the teams and players in the Sunshine State Conference that can heat up, or stay cool, during the 2022-23 season.

 

Barry

Last season: 12-8 in Sunshine State Conference (4th place), 16-10 overall


Barry trudged its way to a fourth-place conference finish and an appearance in the SSC Tournament Semifinals last season, but it hope for even greater success with several fresh faces.


The Buccaneers, who lost three of their top four scorers from last season — including 1,000-point scorers Nerea Baena and Harriet Swindells — welcome seven new players to the program in 2022, with four transfers and three true freshmen.


Clark-Atlanta transfer and senior guard Reagan Jackson highlights the quartet of incoming transfers. Jackson ranked in the top 10 in the SIAC in points, assists, steals and three-point field goals in the 2021-22 season.


Aside from the new additions, the Bucs welcome back a pair of senior guards who helped elevate the team to the SSC’s second-best scoring offense.


Chiara Fusari and Ashia Pool provide veteran experience and leadership on both ends of the floor next season after combining to average 8.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals a contest in their junior campaigns.

 

Eckerd

Last Season: 15-5 in SSC (3rd Place), 21-5 overall


After receiving its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament bid and becoming the lone SSC team to win a game in the big dance last March, Eckerd is poised to make another postseason run with a lock-down defense and a duo of returning defensive stars.


The Tritons, who allowed a conference-low 54.9 points a game last season and ranked seventh in the country in defensive field goal percentage, should again strike fear in opposing offenses behind the leadership of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Lauryn Vieira.


Last year, in her sophomore season, the guard wreaked havoc on the defensive end in 26 games played, ranking third in the SSC with 1.9 steals a game, second in minutes played with 35.6 and eighth in rebounds with 6.5.


Reigning SSC player of the year Maya Price will anchor the Tritons inside the paint. As a junior the center recorded a conference-leading 2.3 blocks a game along with a team-high 14.4 points per game on 54.4-percent shooting.

 

Embry-Riddle

Last season: 9-11 in SSC (8th Place), 11-15 overall


With three underclassmen in its starting lineup, the Eagles struggled at times during league play, finishing eighth in the SSC and dropping its last five conference games.


Although the Eagles’ inexperience showed on occasion, head coach Lisa Wilson’s team will look to take flight next season behind a combination of promising youngsters and experienced veterans.


Sophomore guard Madyson Jean-Louis will look to lead Embry-Riddle on offense in 2022 after a promising freshman campaign.


Logging 24 total starts and 28 minutes a game, Jean-Louis made a seamless transition to the college game in year one, averaging 8.3 points and 4.8 rebounds a contest. While the underclassmen guard will look to lead the ship, senior forward Sydney Jones will reintroduce herself to the conference after missing the last 21 games due to injury. Jones started all five games she played in the 2021-22 season, leading the team with 9 rebounds a game, and ranking second on the squad with 11 points a contest.

 

Florida Southern

Last season: 16-4 in SSC (2nd place), 20-10 overall


Florida Southern impressed in 2021-22 with a 16-4 conference record and a top-four seed in the NCAA South Region. However, they will have to repeat their success following an offseason of roster overhaul.


The Mocs lost their four leading scorers from last season to the transfer portal and graduation, most notably graduate students Whitney Jacoband Julia Jenike, who ranked second and third in the entire conference in points.


To replace the duo, head coach Betsy Harris went to the transfer portal, acquiring several former Division I players to help lead them back to the big dance.


Texas-Rio Grande Valley transfer Maria Llorente will look to emerge as a viable scoring option for the Mocs, as the junior guard started 10 games for the Vaqueros last season and recorded 3.9 points, 2 assists, and 1.4 rebounds a contest.


Joining Llorente in the group of incoming transfers are sophomore guard and forward Anna Denes and Kayla Sieper, who received limited playing time for Division I University of Alabama-Birmingham and Loyola-Maryland, respectively.


Returning sophomore guard Arielle Dabu will complement the new faces on offense this season after a sparkling start to her collegiate career. The Illinois native shot a team-high 41.9 percent from three and ranked fourth on the team with an 87.1 free-throw percentage.

 

Florida Tech

Last Season: 1-19 in SSC (11th place), 3-22 overall


After securing a promising three wins in just nine games in the 2020-21 season, Florida Tech plummeted to a 3-22 record and a .136 winning percentage in 2021-22, marking their worst percentage in the team’s last 15 seasons.


For head coach John Reynolds’ team to return to relevancy next season, they will need to lean on the scoring and all-around production of senior guard Severine Uggen.


In 25 games last season, the Sandvika, Norway native served as an all-purpose guard for the Panthers, recording a team-high 250 points and ranking in the top five in rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game.


Aside from Uggen, senior forward and fellow European Aiste Vaitekunaite serves as an intimidating force inside the paint. At 6-foot-3, the Siauliai, Lithuania native dominated in the front court last season, ranking fourth in the SSC with 22 blocked shots and posting a team-high 5.3 rebounds a contest.


The senior forward also provided production on the offensive end by adding 8.6 points a game, which ranked fourth on the team.

 

Lynn

Last season: 10-10 in SSC (7th place), 12-13 overall


Although Lynn finished the 2021-22 season with a record below .500, head coach Julia Tucker aims to take her team to new heights next season behind a scintillating sophomore standout.


In her first collegiate season, guard Rachel Romich emerged as one of the premier players in the conference, sending shockwaves through the SSC with a program-record 46.9 three-point field goal percentage to go along with a team-high 11.9 points per contest.


These efforts helped Romich earn a share of the SSC Freshman of the Year award, becoming the program’s first freshman to win the award since 2010.


Romich will look to lead the Fighting Knights’ offense alongside backcourt mate Trinity Edwards, who stuffed the stat sheets in her junior campaign with 8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists a game.


Edwards was a force on the conference’s No. 3 scoring defense, racking up 22 steals and 7 blocks.

 

Nova Southeastern

Last season: 11-9 in SSC (6th place), 16-12 overall


After putting together an impressive 16-12 season in 2021-22, head coach Leann Freeland-Curry helped bolster the Sharks' roster this offseason by adding a pair of talented transfers.

To fill the void left by the graduation of guards McKenah Peters and Grace Gilmore, the team’s top two leading scorers, the Sharks added redshirt sophomore forward and three-point specialist Suzan Kinran to the roster.


The UC-Riverside transfer, who missed all last season with an injury, shot a team-high 48.1 percent from beyond the arc in just 11 games for the Highlanders during the 2020-21 season. Joining Kinran via the transfer portal this offseason is graduate guard Mackenzie Steele. Steele, who transferred from conference-rival Florida Southern, served as a viable scoring threat for the Moccasins last season, recording 9.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists a game.

 

Palm Beach Atlantic

Last season: 3-17 in SSC (10th place), 6-21 overall


After finishing with an underwhelming 6-21 overall record last season, the Sailfish took another gut punch this offseason when leading scorer and senior leader Shekinah Guthrie announced her transfer to Division I Florida Gulf Coast University.


Although head coach Manisha Redus’ team will play without Guthrie this season, the Sailfish will look to surprise many in the SSC behind one of the top scorers and younger performers in the conference.


Entering her second season with the club, junior guard Kash Ayuso could ascend to the leading offensive role for the Sailfish after a promising sophomore campaign.


In 19 games, the former Temple Owl ranked 15th in the conference in scoring at 11.8 points a game, while adding 4.3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.7 steals a contest.


Sophomore guard Jahnae Midget will also look to turn heads after a promising freshman season. The West Palm Beach, Florida native added 7.9 points and 3 rebounds a game in 24 games played.

 

Rollins

Last Season: 3-17 in SSC (9th place), 6-19 overall


Like the rival Sailfish, Rollins failed to produce the season the hoped for in 2021-22, ranking dead last in the conference in scoring, scoring margin, team field goal percentage and turnover margin.


If head coach Glenn Wilkes Jr.’s team wants to dig out of the bottom of the conference next season, it will need an increase in production from two key returning players.


Rollins’ offensive production next season will likely begin with junior guard Lucy Leen. The Raleigh, North Carolina native burst onto the scene for the Tars at the end of her sophomore campaign, recording double-digit scoring performances in seven of her last 12 games to elevate her to a team-high 9.2 points per contest.


Leen may also serve as the top point guard for the Tars this season, as she ranked second on the team in 2021-22 with 34 assists.


While Leen will look to lead Rollins in the backcourt, senior forward Silvia Lasarte Garcia is poised to pace the frontcourt.


In just 13 games last season, the Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain native ranked third on the team with 6.2 points a game, while ranking second in both blocks per game and total field-goal percentage.

 

St. Leo

Last Season: 12-8 in SSC (5th place), 17-12 overall


Head coach Anthony Crocitto’s team surprised many last season by soaring to fifth place in the conference and earning a 17-12 overall record, marking its best winning percentage since the 2013-2014 season.


Fresh off a promising season, the Lions can turn heads again in the SSC next season behind a budding Division II superstar.


In her third season with the program, senior guard Amanda Ulrich led the Lions’ top-ranked scoring offense by recording an SSC-best 18.8 points a game, which ranked 28th in the entire country.


Ulrich, who earned her inaugural-career All-SSC First-Team selection, produced in other facets for the Lions, adding 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals in her 29 games played.

Junior guard Kiki McIntyre will look to complement Ulrich on the perimeter following an impressive sophomore campaign. The Dorchester, Massachusetts native started every game for St. Leo and led the team with 3.5 assists a game, while also reaching double figures in scoring in 20 of her 29 games.

 

Tampa

Last Season: 17-3 in SSC (1st place), 29-6 overall


Behind a stout defense and an explosive offense, the Spartans dominated the SSC in 2021-22, claiming both the regular season and conference tournament crowns en route to a No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA South Region.


While Tampa’s magical season was cut short due to a surprising 59-50 upset loss to No. 7 seed Valdosta State in the first round, the Spartans will hope to make a deeper postseason run behind a new-look roster.


Head coach Tom Jessee, who claimed last season’s SSC Coach of the Year award, will look to repeat his team’s success without three of its four leading scorers, as senior and graduate players Aliyah Abney, LaShayla Wright-Ponder and Dori Nagy departed from the program this offseason due to graduation.


To fill the void of the three former All-SSC Team selections, the Spartans will have to lean on senior guard Melijah Sullivan to provide veteran leadership and scoring. Last February, the Bartow, Florida native eclipsed 1,000 career points, and she ranked third on the team in scoring at 11.6 points a contest.


Sullivan will also look to emerge as a force on the glass in her senior campaign after recording five or more rebounds in 18 of her 35 games last season.


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