It was a nearly perfect first season of WAC play for the Stephen F. Austin women’s basketball team. The Ladyjacks were conference regular season and tournament champions. But, once again, for the second straight season, lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“It’s not just about getting there,” SFA head coach Mark Kellogg said on the Straight Outta WAC podcast. “It’s about wanting to stay there.”
With the lost of some key starters from a 28-5 championship squad, there are some big shoes to fill. Stephanie Visscher, Brianna Mitchell, Tasharian Robinson, and Aaliyah Johnson will not don the purple in white in 2022-23.
So, where does Mark Kellogg turn?
For the sake of this article, a look in the paint is where to turn. A pair of post players look to keep the Ladyjacks atop the WAC standings in 2022-23.
Newcomer to Watch:
Kurstyn Harden 6-3, R-Jr, C (Transfer from Northern Colorado)
Harden, a local product from Lufkin, comes home after playing two years at Northern Colorado under Kristen Mattio. Harden’s former coach at UNC is a former assistant of Stephen F. Austin coach Mark Kellogg.
Last year, Harden averaged 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in 25.6 minutes per contest.
On the Straight Outta WAC podcast, Kellogg remarked about her transition home.
“She’s been fantastic so far,” Kellogg said. “And on the court it’s been so easy because Kristen and I run things in a pretty similar fashion.”
Harden will be a traditional post player who does her work down low on the block as she didn’t record a 3-point attempt a year ago.
Her season-high was a 30-point, 11-rebound performance against Sacramento State on January 14 in a Big Sky Conference game. In four games against WAC opponents, (Southern Utah x2, Abilene Christian, and UTRGV) she averaged 10 points per contest.
Returner to Watch:
Aiyana Johnson 6-3, C/F, Grad, Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Johnson averaged 13.9 point and 6.5 rebounds in 26 minutes per contest. Johnson was a big piece as the Ladyjacks lost just one game in conference play a season ago. She was also the leading shot blocker with 36 blocks to go along with 17 steals.
Overall, Johnson did all her work in the paint. The 6-3 center shot 54 percent from the field. And Johnson only attempted four 3-pointers all season.
Had it not been for the fact that First-Team All-WAC selection Stephanie Visscher could play every position on the floor, Johnson would have led the team in rebounding. Visscher pulled down a team-high 162 board. Johnson pulled down 137, second on the Ladyjacks squad.
Her season-high was on February 26 against Abilene Christian. Johnson had 28 points while shooting 11-13 from the field. She also pulled down 12 rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
Johnson has started 87 out of 118 games for the Ladyjacks. The experience is invaluable on a squad that lost so much from a 28-5 championship season. Johnson is coming off her best season as a Ladyjack. But, she is going to have to be even better in 2022-23.
With such a young roster in Nacogdoches, the Ladyjacks will be counting on this grizzled veteran for a big year in hopes of staying atop a revamped and tougher WAC.