NCBBA Women's Update - 5 Up And Coming Teams
It’s nearly that time of year again.
Don't get too excited, though. There’s still time until Christmas shopping begins.
Women’s club basketball is back! Last year featured the first “normal” season post-COVID, and 2022-2023 is shaping up to be a fantastic year of its own for the NCBBA-W.
And while Boston College took home the crown last year, winning nationals, there are many other young, promising teams looking to make their mark.
Here’s a look at five up-and-coming teams to keep an eye on for the 2022-2023 season and how each team will be affected by some preseason conference shake-ups.
The Minutewomen showed that they were legit last season, finishing with a 9–3 record and a trip to regionals. They boast a strong returning group of Francesca Gonnella, Jenna Hache, Madison Bendanillo, and Madeline Grudinskas—all co-captions this year. Gonnella and Hache bring shooting and versatility, with Grudinskas even describing Hache’s shooting as “lights out.”
Rebounding is their weak spot, but with Grudinskas controlling the middle along a strong group of freshmen, improvement in that area is very possible. Building that on-court chemistry will also take time with the freshmen, as many juniors on the team are currently away from the team studying abroad.
Gurdinskas said that the Minutewomen are looking to run more of a 2-3 zone defense as opposed to switching off between the zone and man-defense like they did last season. UMass hopes the zone will help them have a smoother defensive transition from a press to their half-court defense.
UMass is a part of the New England–North conference for the 2022-2023 season. What was previously just the New England North and South conferences has now been split up into four separate conferences for the upcoming season: North, South, East, and West. According to Alec Verhoff, Director of Women’s Basketball Operations, this change was done in order to provide more teams with opportunities to succeed, as the regional tournament will now consist of eight teams battling each other (the top two from each conference) instead of just four. The Minutewomen are now separated from the 2021-22 undefeated Fairfield Stags who they shared the New England–South conference with last year.
Watch for UMass to be one of the strongest teams in their shrunken-down conference, as they are equipped to make a deep postseason run.
Qualifying for the regional championship but having to forfeit is a brutal way to go out. That’s exactly what happened for the Iowa Hawkeyes last season due to travel funding-related issues and lack of player availability. That memory has stuck with Iowa, and they are determined to repeat their success from last season while building off their 6–4 record.
The Hawkeyes are a young team, and freshmen Lauren Osterhaus, Lea Alboyd, Ella Sebek, and Kayla Rushford will look to have an immediate impact. Iowa plays fast for a historically not so well conditioned team, according to senior Cal Schmitz. But their influx of freshmen, who are some of the quickest players on the team, will give the Hawkeyes the boost they need.
Having two new coaches in Kyle Frank and Grant Hall will take some adjusting to, but Schmitz is confident that the Hawkeyes will not miss a beat.
“I think this team has a drive to win that is more powerful than in years past,” Schmitz said. “While winning is always the goal, this team will fight for every ball until the last minute.”
Depth is crucial for success, and the Hawkeyes look to have a much more balanced roster heading into this year, which will allow them to play ahead and score more points, an aspect they struggled with last year.
Iowa will also have an extra team in their conference, Mid America, to match up against this season: the Washington University in St. Louis Bears, rounding out the conference to six total teams, and increasing the NCBBA-W to 67 total teams.
The 2021-2022 season was Creighton’s first year in the Mid America conference, which took some adjusting. A 5–3 finish saw Creighton fall short of its league championship game, but provided the building blocks for a big 2022-2023 season.
Creighton boasts one of the tallest players in women’s club basketball—6-foot-6 freshman Jess Heir—who is also the tallest player in Creighton women's club basketball history, according to senior president Jill Post. Heir will bring a versatility like no other, helping the team bully their opponents in the paint while maintaining their style of play.
“We are a very fast-paced, up-tempo team,” Post said. “We like to run the ball, push it forward to the player ahead and get points up right off the bat.”
Morgan Allen will also be taking on a bigger role this season as a sophomore. Standing at six-foot-one, Allen will complement Heir, giving Creighton their very own Olajuwon and Sampson in what will be a nightmare matchup for opposing teams.
“Our team is tough,” Heir said. “We have some strong personalities that don’t like to lose.”
Like Iowa, Creighton will have to navigate winning alongside the addition of Washington University in St. Louis, to the conference, rounding out a very competitive Mid-America conference with multiple teams that can make deep postseason runs.
A dwindling roster along with a coach who was an expecting father presented Sacred Heart with quite the challenge last season. At one point, the team could only put together open gym runs to keep the team going before stringing a few games together late in the season. With no official head coach by the season's end, then-junior Stephanie Bennet essentially ran the team, guiding the Pioneers to a 5–5 record.
But a new year brings a new beginning, and Sacred Heart is looking to make some noise in the New England - South conference this year, despite last year's challenges.
“I think we had a good [last] season,” said Erin Hare, now a senior on the team. “It was a building point for our team to get to know each other and learn how to work with one another on and off the court.”
Bennet—who is a furious defender with solid ball handling skills—acts as a point-forward for the Pioneers and will be heavily counted on as a senior. She plays similar to Hare, who stands at 6-feet and provides solid rebounding. Guards Jamie Bopp and Elizabeth Gonzalez will also be key, as they both know how to move the ball, create plays, and challenge their defenders, according to Hare. They pose a threat from behind the three point line and can effectively feed Bennet and Hare in the post.
With the division of the New England conferences, New England - South has seen some major changes. UConn, Iona, and Providence have all joined the conference, with Holy Cross, Assumption, and WPI leaving. Fairfield remains the favorite in the South.
“UConn will certainly be a tough fight as they are quite a skilled bunch,” Hare said. “But I think we are up for the challenge. Providence and Iona are both new so we look forward to seeing what’s in store with them.”
Stability will certainly help Sacred Heart this year. They have a new coach in Mike Murphy and plan on playing a full schedule. Look out for a sneaky good year from the Pioneers.
Joining a bigger conference can be tough—harder competition, more travel, longer seasons—but John Hopkins women's club basketball co-captain Ashely Koenig sees their switch as a positive one.
“We’re happy with the change,” Koenig said. “It gives us a chance to play against a wider variety of teams rather than the same few schools every time.”
Considering John Hopkins was previously in the Mid-Atlantic West, a conference comprising only three other schools, it makes sense that Koenig sees the merging of the Mid-Atlantic East and West conferences as an exciting opportunity. She even called last year's miniature conference of the Mid-Atlantic West particularly “unusual.”
Veroff said the conference change was due to geographical reasons and from the Mid-Atlantic West being too small. COVID last year caused games within the conference to be canceled—and while John Hopkins still managed to play against all three of its conference opponents at least once—the Blue Jays ended up missing two conference games in total. Due to fewer COVID restrictions and a bigger conference, the Blue Jays will no longer have those worries for this upcoming season.
Co-captain Helene Apollon will be one of John Hopkins's most important players and can help the team compete against its new competition. She can do a variety of things on the court—from rebounding, scoring, and leading—and will be an integral part of the Blue Jays' team.
John Hopkins' plethora of new young centers such as Erika Ezumba, Harmony Madu, and Jordan Gaines will provide much-needed rebounding and rim protection. It has been a while since John Hopkins has had a strong center, according to Koenig, so the Blue Jays will look to capitalize on their additions while imposing their unselfish style of play on other teams. Koenig will also provide solid rebounding while acting as a mentor for the younger players.
Koenig says that their team likes to bring positive energy to “all of their practices and games,” while always having fun, “both on and off the court.”
If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a tax deductible donation. College Basketball Times is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to equal coverage for women and all levels of college hoops - including NCBBA. The operation of this site is made possible through your generous donations.