SFA
Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

2023-24 Team Preview: Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks

It’s a year of change in Nacogdoches as Leonard Bishop takes over the SFA Ladyjacks women’s basketball program after Mark Kellogg’s departure for West Virginia.

Under Kellogg, the Ladyjacks became one of the nation’s mid-major women’s basketball powers, routinely winning conference regular season titles and tournament.

Sustained success was the mantra. And while Bishop wants to keep that, the first year head coach is also adding to it.

“It’s been about ‘sustained success’ under Mark Kellogg,” Bishop said. “Now it’s about ‘sustained effort’. And a sustained mentality.”

20-win seasons have been the norm for the Ladyjacks over the past eight years. Will that continue under Leonard Bishop, who has been Mark Kellogg’s right-hand man since 2015-16?

Here is a look at the Ladyjacks.

2022-23 Season Record

27-7 Overall/15-3 WAC (2nd Regular Season)

Postseason

Lost in both the WAC tournament semifinals and WNIT 2nd round

Departures:

  • Jordan Harrison (WAC Freshman of the Year)- transfer to West Virginia
  • Avery Brittingham- transfer to UT Arlington
  • Angel Scott- transfer to Missouri State
  • Aiyana Johnson- graduated and is playing internationally
  • Zya Nugent- transfer to West Virginia
  • Brionna Scott- currently in portal
Kurstyn Harden will be the force in the paint for Leonard Bishop and the Ladyjacks. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Returners:

  • Zoe Nelson – 6’1, Junior
  • Tyler McCliment-Call – 6’0, Senior
  • Avery Van Sickle  – 5’10, Redshirt Sophomore
  • Destini Lombard – 5’9, Senior
  • Kurstyn Harden – 6’3, Redshirt Senior
  • Kyla Deck- 5’9”, Sophomore

Newcomers:

  • Trinity Slocum – 5’9, JUCO Transfer
  • Jasmyne Boles – 6’1, Redshirt Junior, Transfer from North Texas
  • Trinity Moore – 6’0, Junior, Transfer from Oral Roberts
  • Ituau Tuisaula  – 6’1, Junior, JUCO Transfer
  • Mimi Gatewood – 5’6, Sophomore, Transfer from Kansas State
  • Lydia Cooke-Wiggins – 5’7, Freshman
  • Mele Finau – 5’11, Graduate, Transfer from UC Riverside
  • Atalia Ballesteros – 5’11, Freshman

Boles and Finau combined to average 37 minutes per game a year ago so Bishop will have proven Division I experience in his first class.

Boles shot 49 percent from the field in her limited minutes as a member of the Mean Green and should be able to give Kurstyn Harden some help down low in the post. North Texas was 11-20 overall but just 8-12 in CUSA.

Meanwhile, Finau, the sister of CBU graduate Sila Finau, played across town at UC Riverside under former GCU head coach Nicole Powell and was part of a Highlander team that struggled mightily with one D2 loss and a near scare in another game. In 26 minutes per contest, Finau averaged 4.4 PPG and shot just under 25 percent from three point range. UC Riverside was just 3-17 in the Big West with six total wins a year ago.

Kyla Deck returns for the Ladyjacks and should see an increased role in 2023-24. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Tuisaula shot 54 percent at the JUCO level a year ago and averaged 10 points per game for Peninsula Junior College in Washington, a program that reached the NWAC conference championship game.

Slocum was a solid distributor at Whatcom Community College in Washington, averaging 3.8 assists per game while scoring 7.2 points per game and grabbing six rebounds a game.

Gatewood was a 2022 McDonald’s All-American game nominee who appeared in four games at Kansas State a year ago. In high school, she helped lead DeSoto to a 28-2 mark and 6A UIL title.

Cooke-Wiggins won a 6A TAPPS state title in her high school career and was a double digit scorer for John Paul II HS.

Bishop rounded out his class with a little international flare in adding Ballesteros, a 5’11’ guard from Barcelona, Spain. International players have thrived in the WAC in recent years and SFA is hopeful Ballesteros continues that trend.

Outlook:

There’s no denying that losing four starters at any program in the country will hurt and that’s exactly what Leonard Bishop will step into this season, his first at the Ladyjack helm after Mark Kellogg’s departure for West Virginia.

Tyler McCliment-Call (7.3 PPG and 35% 3-point shooter last year) is the only returning starter from last year’s 27 win team that reached the WNIT 2nd round and lost in the WAC semifinals.

Meanwhile, both Destini Lombard and Kurstyn Harden also saw significant time. So, there is some experience but also a lot of youth. They’ll begin the process of learning to play together with a trip to Italy for a trio of games this week along with some off-court adventures.

Schedule:

On the Straight Outta WAC podcast, Bishop dropped a couple of scheduling tidbits which included home games with North Texas and Rice.

In addition to their CUSA/WAC Alliance matchups with Middle Tennessee and Liberty he said the Ladyjacks will be playing a lot of return games, mentioning a home game against Portland among that group.

Notes:

Bishop said on the Straight Outta WAC Podcast that this team is built to play whatever style is asked of them on a given day. They have the size to be able to grind teams out in a half court game with Kurstyn Harden returning and Boles joining the fold.

If the game goes uptempo, Bishop believes the additions of Gatewood, Slocum, Finau, and Ballesteros should compliment his returners quite nicely.

About the author

Derryl Trujillo

Derryl Trujillo is a Southern California based sportswriter who won the 2019 Inland Empire Baseball Coaches Association's Supporter of the Year award. He joined the WAC Hoops Digest staff in 2020 and also covers local sports for Inland Sports and the Valley News. Before transitioning to media Derryl was a high school, collegiate and club volleyball official along with serving as a high school basketball scorekeeper for ten years.

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