Semifinal Friday
WAC Player of the Year Ane Olaeta - Courtesy CBU Athletics.

WAC Women’s Basketball 2021-22 Season Preview

It’s never too early to look ahead to our 2021-2022 WAC Women’s basketball season but before we do let’s reflect on a unique ’20-’21 season…

With good reason CBU dominated the headlines en route to a 26-1 overall record, WAC Regular Season & Tournament championships, along with the program’s first two postseason wins in WNIT play. 

Utah Valley earned the conference’s NCAA tournament berth (2nd place) as a result of their percentage points advantage over Grand Canyon University garnered when the Lopes were unable to make up a series with Chicago State.

When the ’21-’22 season commences it does so with four new teams dubbed the “Texas 4”. Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar University and Sam Houston State come over from the Southland Conference. They join the existing membership to form a 13-team conference which has eleven teams eligible to compete at WAC Vegas.

The announcement came in early June that teams would play an 18-game conference schedule with no divisions. The schedule, still being worked out, will resemble something like an SEC schedule where a team might play somebody once, others twice, and some not at all. 

Transfer Portal Notes

There was definitely some movement in terms of the transfer portal. Most notable is Katie Scott’s departure from Grand Canyon after winning both Freshman and Newcomer of the year in 2020-21. Scott, a Missouri native and high school Player of the Year as a senior, landed at Oral Roberts (Tulsa, OK) of the Summit League. 

Graham Stays in the WAC

Lopes coach Molly Miller jumped into the portal and got Amara Graham to join her in Phoenix as a graduate transfer from UTRGV. A season ago, Graham won the conference scoring title, averaging 16.5 PPG while finishing 6th in 3-point shooting percentage (36.6%) and 8th in total field goal percentage (45.2%).

In a Grand Canyon press release, Miller said, “Amara is the complete package when it comes to guard play, and I can’t wait to see her have success within our system, where I know she will thrive. She is a standout basketball player, but even more importantly, a high character individual who I am so excited to coach.”

All-WAC First Team

Preseason Player of the Year noted in bold

Stephanie Visscher, SR, G, SFA

Amara Graham, GR, G, GCU

Ane Olaeta, GR, G, CBU

Britney Thomas, GR, C, CBU

Courtney Cleveland, SR, F, SHSU

All-WAC Second Team

Sara Bershers, JR, G, UTRGV

Caitlyn Harper, RSJR, F, CBU

Laura Piera, SR, G, GCU

Bree Calhoun, SR, G, SU

Josie Williams, JR, C, UVU

As for my “Way too Early” rankings here we go…

  1. California Baptist University
  2. Stephen F. Austin State University
  3. Grand Canyon University
  4. Utah Valley University
  5. Abilene Christian University
  6. Lamar University
  7. Sam Houston State
  8. NMSU
  9. UTRGV
  10. Seattle U
  11. Tarleton State
  12. Dixie State University
  13. Chicago State

California Baptist University (26-1, 14-0) had a stellar season in 2020-21 winning both the WAC regular season and tournament titles. In the WNIT they were regional semifinalists in Dallas, falling to Rice University just days before Owls coach Tina Langley took over at Washington. They also received an Associated Press top 25 vote and finished at #5 in the mid-major women’s basketball poll. For Lancer fans the best part is that the key pieces are all back from a season ago seeking more of the same.

Stephen F. Austin (24-3, 14-0) like CBU had an undefeated conference regular season and won their tournament. They also received an Associated Press top 25 vote and finished 8th in the women’s basketball mid-major poll. Also like the Lancers they’ll return key pieces which will allow them to compete for WAC regular season and tournament titles right away.

Grand Canyon (18-7, 8-4) at No. 3 is a dangerous group with the addition of Amara Graham from UTRGV. Molly Miller brings back an experienced group with Laura Piera, Kennedi Shorts, Tiana & Tiarra Brown, plus Taylor Caldwell that I feel will have something to prove after missing last year’s postseason by percentage points. Losing Katie Scott will certainly hurt scoring wise but Miller has added two grad transfers that should battle for the spot. 

Utah Valley (13-7, 10-4) is our No. 4 preseason pick despite an NCAA Tournament berth a year ago. Dan Nielson will return four of five starters in Josie Williams, Maria Carvalho, Shay Fano, and Nehaa Sohail from a squad that set the program record for conference wins (10) and was 21st nationally in assists. That group was among the WAC leaders in minutes played so establishing depth will be a key to their success.

Josie Williams returns to anchor the paint for Utah Valley. Courtesy UVU Athletics.

Abilene Christian (14-13, 6-7) had a solid season a year ago but finished a game below .500% in the Southland. Julie Goodenough’s team reached the NCAA tournament in 2018 and is looking for a return trip three years later. Their top two scorers in Anna McCleod and Alyssa Adams are both gone but a solid group of grad transfers and Wildcat returners should be able to make up those points. Emma Middleton, last year’s D2 Most Outstanding Player while at Lubbock Christian, leads that group. 

Lamar (10-14, 9-6) will lose Jadyn Pinetel’s experience as she transfers to UTSA. Dijone’ Flowers also is in the portal. Micaela Wilson was the team’s leading scorer at 12.2 PPG and returns for her senior campaign in Beaumont. 

Sam Houston State (15-8, 9-5)  took a big hit as Amber Leggett (last year’s leading scorer) hit the transfer portal but Kaylee Jefferson & Courtney Cleveland are both expected back.  

New Mexico State (9-12, 6-6) had an off year in 2020-21. It was the first time in recent history that the women weren’t in the top three when all was said and done. I’m curious to see how the Aggies respond and whether that was a product of the unique circumstances they faced or if the conference caught up to them in talent. They’re my No. 8 pick as we sit right now. 

UTRGV (6-14, 2-8) found themselves in a lot of close games but didn’t get the wins to show for their efforts. Amara Graham took advantage of the grad transfer rule and moved over to Grand Canyon. Jordan Lewis hit the portal, going to Rogers State. Sara Bershers returns and will be counted on in a leadership role plus a vital scoring role. 

Seattle University (11-14, 6-8) had a tough finish to last year, dropping three straight between their final series against CBU and the WAC tournament opener to New Mexico State. Suzy Barcomb has a lot back with Bree Calhoun, Mckenzi Williams, and Georgia Kehoe leading the charge. When it came to the portal, Barcomb grabbed a couple of transfers from the University of Hawaii in Jadynn Alexander and Barbara Rangel. Alexander was the Rainbow Wahine second leading scorer a season ago at 10.4 points per game.

Seattle G Bree Calhoun returns for the Redhawks in 2021-22. Courtesy of Seattle U Athletics.

Tarleton State (9-16, 4-10)  had a solid opening campaign in Division I, being competitive in a lot of WAC contests. Next step for the Texans is to knock off a top half opponent. 

Dixie State (1-2, 0-0) abandoned their season three games in so the Trailblazers still aren’t a known commodity at the Division I level. 

Chicago State (0-14, 0-10) rebuilds from scratch in their penultimate WAC campaign as leading scorer Nadia Thorman-McKey enters the portal. Seven returners hit the portal and they signed seven new recruits. Key to a turnaround will be getting them to stay. 


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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