• Emma Hurley

NAIA Women's Update - Sooner Athletic Conference Preview

With the start of the season for the Sooner Athletic Conference just around the corner, it’d be best to check out this year’s teams sooner rather than later. Here’s what to expect from the ladies of the SAC.


Central Christian


Despite a tough last season with an overall record of 1-29, the Lady Tigers gave a tremendous effort in every game. It certainly won’t be any different this year. Head Coach Matt Barreiro says that “there is a ton of potential, but in the SAC, one never knows.”


A couple of the squad’s freshmen recruits include six-foot Addisyn Chambers and combo guard Hallee Winsea. With 11 new players, 9 of whom are freshmen, Central Christian might surprise— keep a lookout for these underdogs (or should I say undercats, specifically big jungle ones).


John Brown


The Golden Eagles’ 11-11 record in the SAC and 16-16 record overall put them at sixth in the conference. Expect John Brown University to step it up with the addition of two transfers and one freshman.


Nadia Akbar, the ideal wing player on both offense and defense, becomes an Eagle after finishing an impressive prep career, including helping Bentonville High School to a 2020 state title. Junior Bella Irlenborn also played for Bentonville High School before her two seasons at Southwest Baptist University. Since she can play both around the basket and around the perimeter, Irlenborn’s range of skills makes her a golden fit. Finally, graduate student Maci Mains joins the crew after four seasons with Henderson State University. Though she averaged 8.9 points, she had a 38-point game her junior year to really make her stand out on offense.


These three join returners Tarrah Stephens (WBCA-NAIA All-America honorable mention), Emily Sanders (All-Freshman Team selection), Maddie Altman, and Natalie Smith (both All-Sooner Athletic selections).


Langston


Langston University saw success this past year with an overall record of 18-10. Though they suffered a 61-92 loss to Science and Arts in the SAC quarterfinals, they improved from their eighth place ranking the year prior.


At the end of last season, the Lady Lions bid farewell to graduate student Asheika Alexander. Averaging 18.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.9 steals per game, Alexander made Third Team All-America, First Team All-Conference, and All-Conference Defensive Team. She now plays for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.


After such an impressive season, will Langston still be able to kick it up a notch? After the loss of their top player, the future is uncertain. However, they return key players such as Taliyah Harris, an intelligent point guard and on-the-ball defender, and senior guard Adia Rogers, who averaged 9.1 ppg and 4.3 rpg.


With similar skill sets and records, the Lady Lions face an even match against Science and Arts. In fact, Langston even beat them in the 2021 SAC quarterfinals. Keep a look out for how these two teams compare this year.


Mid-America Christian


After the most successful season in program history, with a 19-3 record in the SAC and 28-5 overall, the players of Mid-America Christian are eager to step back onto the court in October. The Evangels suffered a loss in the second round of last year’s NAIA championship, but they gave a solid performance against Clarke. The team will undoubtedly return stronger than ever, especially with a few new faces.


Their roster expanded as they signed six collegiate transfers:


Sophomore guard Shy Christopher certainly won’t shy away this season. Formerly a high school star (named all-state, all-area, all-tournament, and all-conference, a top scorer in the state, averaged 27.7 points as a junior, and more), the redshirt sophomore guard from Southeast Missouri State makes the future bright for the Evangels.


Jaci Littell, a junior guard, competed at the NCAA Division II level at Central Oklahoma. Her insane career stats, including 143 assists, 251 rebounds, and 66 steals, are just one reason why she’s an excellent fit for the Evangels from both scoring and defensive perspectives.


Also from the NCAA DII level comes Alexis Borgstadt. The sophomore forward with a 36.9 shooting percentage as a freshman is an indispensable asset as a strong rebounder. Whitney Outon played DII as well at Cameron University for four years. The graduate student forward averaged 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game.


Tyaija Coleman is a junior guard from Oral Roberts. She played 19 games and started 8 times for the Golden Eagles as a freshman. Her NCAA Division I level experience and athleticism will make her a strong contributor to the Evangels’ success this year.


Finally, Hallie Reed, from Allen County Community College, brings her two years of JUCO experience and high basketball IQ to the team. With 361 career points, a 36 three-point percentage, and a 83.3 free throw percentage, the junior guard will have no trouble making her mark.


The three high school signees, Ashley Hopper, Ainsley Velasquez, and Camryn Armes, are looking just as promising. All three led their teams to state or area championships. After playing at such impressive levels, it will be exciting to see how their skills translate to the college court.


Oklahoma City


Last season, Oklahoma City finished eighth in the conference with an overall record of 16-13. After the Stars won a close opening game in the SAC tournament with a last-minute layup, they fell to Mid-America in the quarterfinal round. The Stars hope to shine even brighter on the court this year, especially with five additions: all transfers and all juniors.


Amaya Gordon is both a relentless defender and tough scoring threat. Six-foot Cacie Gorman’s around-the-rim skills make her an indispensable element on both ends of the court. Additionally, Amiya Howard has a priceless pull-up jumper, while both Ray Osborn and Raegan Travis have a valuable defensive drive. These upperclassmen transfers combined with the lineup of experienced returners create a team that knows what they’re doing, and these toughies aren’t afraid to get scrappy in order to secure a win.


Panhandle State


Oklahoma Panhandle State University faced some tough competition last year, including Langston, who beat them in the first round of the SAC tournament. Nonetheless, the Aggies are ready to be tough competition this season. Their new head coach, Greg Ray, brings 15 years of experience at the NCAA Division I, NAIA, and junior college levels. With this leadership, the Aggies will undoubtedly be able to handle themselves on the court.


Science and Arts


The past few seasons, the University of Science and Arts has consistently ranked in the top five of the SAC. This year should be no different.


USAO lost to Westmont College in the second round of the national tournament last season. But, considering their performance against Langston to secure a win in the SAC quarterfinals, the Drovers are not easy to beat.


Senior forward Zaria Dorsey's return will definitely help. Leading the team with 13 points and 7 rebounds per game last year, she earned the title of SAC Player of the Week several times, was named the 2021 SAC Newcomer of the year, and is a two-time NAIA and WBCA All-American. Sophomore Lainey Morrow comes back after making the All-Freshman Team and averaging 8 ppg and 5 rpg. Other key returners include sophomore guard Jordan Bloomfield, who averaged 8.5 ppg, and junior guard Jessica Palmer, who shot 45% from the field.


The Drovers also welcome several newcomers: five transfers and three freshmen. Head Coach Derrick Matthews thinks that “it’s important to always add at least one new player every year. New players are usually more motivated and trying to prove their worth, therefore you can always expect them to compete and challenge the other players.”


From Eastern Oklahoma State College comes Brayanna Polk, a skilled point guard and playmaker who averaged 13 ppg, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Sophomore Tonijah Fortune transfers from Cisco Junior College and brings intense defense and unstoppable determination to the team. Trinitee Alexander, a transfer from Tyler Junior College, contributes high energy and versatility. Diaka Berete from Grayson Junior College is, according to Coach Matthews, an “elite attacker” and “crafty around the rim.” Finally, transfer Qadira Hamilton looks to be an excellent leader with a high basketball IQ as both a skilled defender and passer.


As for incoming freshmen, Devynn Harris (who averaged 18 ppg in high school), Madison Crandall (who averaged 14 ppg), and Jaylee Willis (who averaged 9 ppg) enter the scene. All three are fierce competitors.


Southwestern AG


With a lineup of mostly underclassmen, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University Lions lack one thing: experience. But they make up for it with athletic, versatile, and eager-to-learn players. Last year, freshmen Rylee Lavender and Autumn Moore led the team in scoring, both averaging 10.6 ppg. Now, they have a year of knowledge under their belts and still several seasons ahead of them.


Additionally, a few key transfers include Taylor Moravcik, a skilled rebounder; Wendy Clemmons, a point guard and good floor leader; Macy Smith, an experienced shooter; and Riley Roberts, a tough defender who Coach Michael Sons describes as a “glue type of player.”


Head Coach Sons says, “We are excited about our returners; they were able to play a lot of minutes that freshmen don’t usually get last season… We are still young, still no seniors, but we hope to be competitive in the conference and see a huge next step taken for our program.”


Keep an eye on this crew to see how the incoming freshmen and returning sophomores compete with veterans on other teams.


Southwestern Christian


After an overall 18-14 season, Southwestern Christian University fell to Wayland Baptist in the quarterfinals of the SAC tournament. This year, the Eagles hope to soar to new heights, despite the graduation of their leading scorer, Andrade Thamires (who averaged 19.9 ppg and 9.1 rpg).


Seniors Tresha Yager, Lauren Wade, and Christina Jenkins have enormous shoes to fill, but as the next top scorers, it should be no problem. Lauren Wade was also the second-highest rebounder (after Thamires). Look for the seniors to take on a much larger role, and see how they perform without the leader of last year’s squad.


Texas Wesleyan


With an overall 23-5 record this past season, the Rams experienced their most successful season in 11 years and third best record in program history. They didn’t make it far in the NAIA tournament, losing in the opening round to St. Francis, but their number 3 ranking in the SAC truly highlighted their determination and success.


This year, Coach Jackson adds 5 junior college transfers and 4 freshmen. “Our main focus in recruiting was to improve our depth so we could sub and have a lift from our bench as well as have some shooters that can help stretch the floor off of our posts,” she says. “This year we should be much more balanced and able to have an inside out attack as well as be able to guard better.”


Junior transfer Taryn Wills joins the squad from Tyler Junior College, where she helped the team win the NJCAA National Championship. The Rams also welcome junior transfer Keara Felix from Pima Community College, where she led her team to the NJCAA national tournament. These two are champs at heart and will reflect this on the court— watch out!


Senior guard Kertisa Amos returns for her second season with the Rams as a top scorer and defender. She was named SAC Newcomer of the Year and made First Team All-Conference as well as the All-Defensive team. Zarria Carter, a sophomore post, dominated the paint as a freshman with a career total of 306 rebounds. She made Third Team All-Conference and the All-Freshman Team. With three years still ahead of her, one can only imagine what’s in store for Texas Wesleyan.


UNT Dallas


Similar to Panhandle State, the UNT Dallas Trailblazers lost in the conference tournament opening round. Last season initially seemed like an uphill battle with a handful of consecutive defeats, but the Trailblazers eventually finished with an overall record of 12-18.


Not only did they add seven new freshmen, the Trailblazers also return several solid players, including graduate student Delyssa Miller, who averaged 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season.


Last season’s losses ignited a blazing fire within each of the players. Look for them to step onto the court stronger than ever.


Wayland Baptist


The Pioneers hope to keep their three-year streak alive as conference champs this season, which is quite the task considering the fierce competition of the SAC. Their strong crew of returners, however, is up for the challenge.


Jenna Cooper-Jackson, the nation’s leader in total assists who made First Team All-Conference and All-American, will play her fifth season thanks to Covid. With her intense offense, she averaged nearly 19 ppg. Additionally, her strong leadership skills she acquired over her four years with Wayland will hopefully help the team to another nearly undefeated season.


Kaitlyn Edgemon, the team’s leader in rebounds and blocks with an average of 17 ppg, expects to step up to a bigger role this year. Ashlyn Shelley returns as a three-year starter with valuable knowledge. The guard will have many more opportunities to show off her three-point shooting this season. Taryn Shultz (sophomore), Canton Moreno (junior), and Emily Sigala (sophomore) also look to be stable contributors yet again.


“As a coach, you always want to have as much talent as possible on your team,” says Head Coach Jason Cooper, former WBU player and father of current player Jenna Cooper. “I believe with our returners and a great class of new players, we definitely have that talent. We are bigger, faster and stronger than we were a year ago… We have seen so many situations and overcome so many obstacles that we will be more confident in our response to those stressors in crunch time situations.”


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