November 7, 2022
2022-23 Big West Conference season preview
The Big West Conference will be defined this season by youth and the transfer portal
As a mid-major conference, the Big West doesn’t usually generate many national headlines. Playing in the shadow of the Pac-12, the Big West is generally seen as an afterthought in the West Coast college basketball landscape. Some of that is changing, however.
In recent years, Big West teams have begun scheduling non-conference games against Pac-12 opponents. This season, every Big West team has at least one non-conference game against the Pac-12.
The conference has even begun to draw the attention of WNBA scouts. In recent seasons, the Big West has had UC Davis’ Morgan Bertsch drafted by the Dallas Wings, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Sierra Campisano in training camp with the Chicago Sky, and Hawaii’s Amy Atwell drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks and appearing in four regular-season games.
When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, Big West teams used to be an automatic No. 16 seed. This past season, Hawaii was seeded No. 15 in its regional. Baby steps.
With some heavy graduation losses and players using up their final years of NCAA eligibility, a lot of this season will be defined by youth and teams using the transfer portal to address roster concerns. UC San Diego, one of the more experienced teams in the Big West, is still ineligible for postseason conference tournament play because it’s transitioning to Division I.
Here’s a look at how each team might shape up this season:
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Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
The Mustangs are going to have some heavy shoes to fill with the retirement of long-time head coach Faith Mimnaugh who retired after 25 years at the helm. Thankfully for Cal Poly, new head coach Shanele Stires should be up for the challenge. Stires arrives with coaching experience at the D1, D2 and D3 levels. Most recently, she was the head coach at Cal State East Bay for six years, where she won two conference championships and made an appearance in the NCAA D2 West Region Semifinals.
She inherits a roster that has a couple of key returners as well as some key transfers. Leading the way will be a couple of seniors in point guard Maddie Vick and wing Maddie Willett. Vick had a breakout season last year, starting in all 25 games and leading the Mustangs in scoring with 10.2 points per game and dishing out 3.7 assists. Look for her to take on a larger role on the offensive end.
With Willett, the Mustangs have a solid shooter who knocked down three-point shots at a 31 percent clip last season. Ideally, you’d want to see that number in the mid-30s consistently, but Willett is someone opposing teams have to be aware of on the perimeter. Willett is also someone opposing teams have to put a body on, on the glass.
On the transfer front, the Mustangs will look to guard Taylor Wu who arrived from Cal Baptist, to make an immediate impact. Wu made her mark with the Lancers as a freshman three seasons ago as a shooter and a scorer. Numbers-wise, she had a bit of a down year last season, but Cal Poly will bank on her replicating her production from her first two seasons at Cal Baptist.
They’ll also look for increased production from one of last season’s transfers, senior Julia Nielacna. The Polish forward is a potential double-double threat who can also space the floor with her shooting.
Most of the roster, though is made up of freshmen and sophomores and so expect this season to be a bit of a learning curve for the Mustangs. A couple of returning players to keep an eye on are sophomore point guard Jazzy Anousinh and sophomore wing Sydney Bourland. Anousinh is a pure point guard who was a key player off the bench last season and Bourland is a bit of a playmaker and a solid defensive player.
Cal State Bakersfield
The Roadrunners had a surprising run last season in the Big West tournament, knocking off Cal State Northridge in the first round and then putting a scare into eventual tournament champ Hawaii, despite finishing with a 3-11 conference record. Most of the key players from that team are gone, however, with the Roadrunners having to rely on internal development this upcoming season.
The Roadrunners should expect to see increased production from two returners: sophomore guard Tatyanna Clayburne and sophomore big Hennie van Schaik. Clayburne led all freshmen in minutes played last year, while van Schaik was named to the Big West All-Freshman Team due to her prowess on the glass and defensive presence in the paint.
When it comes to running the offense, though, the Roadrunners are going to hope for strong contributions from a couple of new players. Point guard is one of the most important positions in basketball and the newcomer set to make the most impact right away is redshirt senior Taylor Caldwell. A Bakersfield native, Caldwell returns home after three seasons at Grand Canyon. She is a capable playmaker and solid defensive player who provides the Roadrunners with some size in the backcourt.
As for the other newcomer who can make an impact at point guard, don’t be surprised to see freshman Morgan Edwards find her way into the rotation. Edwards was a standout floor leader during her high school career at Serra High School and Redondo Union High School. Her recruitment flew under the radar and, quite frankly was underrecruited for a player of her caliber. But other schools’ loss is Bakersfield’s gain.
Cal State Fullerton
In the official preseason media poll, the Titans were picked to finish last in the conference. That might be underselling this team a little bit. Sure, they didn’t have such a strong 2021-22 season, but this is a group that brings back a lot of key players as well as additions of some talented newcomers.
A lot of what the Titans do on the court is going, to begin with junior point guard Anniken Frey. Frey earned her way into the rotation as a freshman during the 2019-20 season and by her sophomore year, she was a starter and one of the best playmakers in the Big West. Unfortunately, she missed all of last season but is ready to go to begin this year. She’s a career 39.2 percent shooter from three-point range and should jump up to double-digit scoring this season.
The Titans’ frontcourt will be bolstered by a pair of returners in senior forward Ashlyn Neff and junior center Ashlee Lewis. Neff became a regular starter last season and has become a double-double threat with her work on the glass. Lewis is the team’s most effective post option, with a career mark of 46.8 percent shooting from the field. She should be a contender for a spot on the All-Conference teams as one of the Big West’s best interior players.
The wings should see a boost from graduate transfer Shyla Latone. Latone attended high school in California at Bonita Vista and returns to the Southland after spending the last three years at Utah State. At Utah State, Latone became one of the better three-point shooters in the nation. Her percentage has become more efficient each season and shooting in the mid to high 30s this season is a reasonable expectation for her.
The Titans will also have a candidate for the conference’s All-Freshman team with guard Demonnie Lagway. At Palisades High School, Lagway developed into one of the best-scoring wings in the Los Angeles area. By the time her senior year rolled around, she was comfortable not only creating her own shot but reading the defense and acting as a playmaker when needed. She too was underrecruited, but she can put the ball in the basket and she should get the opportunity to play immediately.
Cal State Northridge
Head coach Carlene Mitchell is no longer interim, as she was given the full-time position at the end of last season. Mitchell was responsible for guiding the Matadors through their first full season since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team had chosen to sit out the 2020-21 season due to a shortage of players for COVID reasons. Under Mitchell, the Matadors became a scrappy defensive team.
They will be led in the backcourt by graduate student Jordyn Jackson and in the frontcourt by graduate student Tess Amundsen. Jackson is one of the top floor leaders in the Big West and has a strong slashing game. She was second on the team in free-throws attempted with 73 and shot 78.1 percent from the stripe. Amundsen can score in the paint and space the floor with her sizzling 49.1 percent shooting from distance.
One player on the roster who is poised to take a big leap is sophomore center, Kayanna Spriggs. Spriggs was on the All-Freshman team last season and averaged nearly as many rebounds (5.3) as she did points (5.6). She has good size and last season, she showed flashes of being a legitimate low post threat. She worked her way into the starting lineup and the next part of her development is becoming that consistent paint-scoring option when an easy bucket is needed.
Adding to the Matadors’ strong interior play is sophomore forward Michelle Duchemin. Duchemin is a high-energy player who is active around the rim and crashes the glass well. She is a tough defensive player too. Her next step is becoming a little bit more efficient at scoring the ball.
Like most teams in college basketball these days, the Matadors have their own set of transfers to help solidify the roster. Most notably, guard Cheyenne Givens spent the past couple of seasons at Pepperdine, where she was comfortable playing as a starter and off the bench. She’s a capable scorer when needed and a solid playmaker and defender. The Matadors are also hoping for a bounce-back season from wing De’jah Williams who missed all last season with an injury. A transfer from Iona, Williams is a wing with size who can score and rebound.
The Rainbow Wahine were last season’s Big West Conference champion and made it to the NCAA Tournament. They lost Amy Atwell, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks and even appeared in four regular season games. But they still have a solid group of players and they’ll once again be in the mix for the conference title.
Hawaii was the team that perhaps benefitted the most from the transfer portal with their crucial addition of Lily Wahinekapu. An O’ahu native, Wahinekapu returns home after spending a season at Cal State Fullerton, where she won the Big West Freshman of the Year Award. She averaged 14.7 points per game and 3.7 assists per game. She’ll be in the running for an All-Conference spot and don’t be surprised to see her scoring numbers jump a bit.
The backcourt will be powered by a pair of sophomores in guards Daejah Phillips and Olivia Davies. Phillips is a bit of a combo guard who acts as the primary ball-handler and runs the offense or creates her shot and provides a scoring boost. Davies was solid off the bench, with efficient scoring and strong work on the glass.
Helping to fill the void left by Atwell in the frontcourt will be graduate student Kallin Spiller. Spiller is an efficient scoring option (46.9 percent) who was fourth on the team last year in scoring. She is a good rebounder and a potential double-double threat each game. She’ll get some help from Virginia transfer Meg Jefferson. Jefferson only played sparingly for the Cavaliers, but she was one of the top players in the nation in shooting percentage (73.3 percent) and she brings some needed size.
Long Beach State
The Beach looks to be one of the strongest teams in the conference. Head coach Jeff Cammon, one of the best coaches in the conference, has several key returners and a few impact transfers. The Beach had a successful regular season last year but faltered in the conference tournament. They have the talent this season to make a deeper run.
The team should see continued improvement from redshirt junior wing Kianna Hamilton-Fisher. She was an impact player off the bench last season and may get her chance to become a regular starter. She’s a good rebounder for a wing and brings effort on the defensive end. She hasn’t yet cracked double-digits in scoring during her college career, but this may be the year she can do so.
Hamilton-Fisher will be aided in the backcourt by fellow upperclassmen, junior Kristyna Jeskeova and redshirt senior Ma’Qhi Berry. Jeskeova is one of the better defensive guards on the roster and a good rebounder as well. Ideally, you would want to see her shooting percentages become a little more efficient, but she can score the ball. She’s also been a key plug with the second unit and should be in the running for a starting position. Berry is one of the best defensive players in the conference and as a freshman during the 2019-20 season, defense was what made her stand out. She’s a bit of a combo guard; she can score the ball when needed and be the primary ball-handler and playmaker.
Helping to bolster the team is a pair of local transfers, sophomore wing Sydney Woodley from Cal State Northridge and senior guard Malia Bambrick from Pepperdine. Bambrick was a standout shooter (33 percent) from three-point range and scorer (Waves second-leading scorer at 10 points per game, 1,000 career points) at Pepperdine. Woodley was a strong defensive player (2.9 steals per game) and will add to the already good defensive backcourt for the Beach.
Additionally, the team has a couple of returning players who should be ready to take another step forward in their development. Point guard Patricia Chung was named to the Big West All-Freshman team two seasons ago but played only sparingly last season. She’s a good playmaker and a better three-point shooter than her percentages last season (18.8 percent would suggest. Guard Savannah Tucker has carved out a role for herself off the bench and is yet another capable defender the Beach has to through at opposing guards.
The Aggies have been one of the most consistent teams in the Big West the last couple of seasons with five regular season titles (2009-10, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20), two conference titles (2011, 2019) and three NCAA tournament appearances (2011, 2019, 2021). Head coach Jennifer Gross now in her 12th season with UC Davis, is one of the best college coaches in the state.
This season is going to be a little different for the Aggies, however. Like many other teams in the conference, the Aggies were hit with upperclassmen losses and have an influx of younger players to depend on.
The one player who is poised to become one of the top players in the conference is fourth-year wing, Evanne Turner. Turner has been racking up accolades since arriving on campus. She was named to the Big West All-Freshman team two years ago, was on the All-Tournament team in 2021 and was an All-Big West Honorable Mention last season. She was the Aggies’ second-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game and one of their most consistent three-point shooters at 37.6 percent. She has the green light this season to take on the role of the team’s offensive focal point.
Like many college teams these days, the Aggies have looked to the transfer portal to help bolster their roster. Turner will have some help in the backcourt with graduate transfer Tess Sussman from Harvard. Sussman is a solid all-around guard who does a little bit of everything. She can score the ball, she can rebound and she can defend. The Aggies have an inter-conference transfer with guard Victoria Baker. During the 2020-21 season, Baker showed the ability to shoot the ball (41.9 percent) as well as being a capable ball-handler/playmaker. Lastly, third-year guard Tova Sabel arrives from Penn State. Sabel is a good shooter (career 37.1 percent from distance).
The Aggies are going to need some help in the paint though and for that, they’ll turn to fourth-year center Lena Svanholm and second-year forward Mazatlan Harris. Svanholm is a capable and efficient scorer (50.4 percent last season) around the basket and a solid rebounder. She will also anchor the Aggies defense in the middle. Harris was a regular off the bench and should be ready for more consistent minutes. She too has a nice touch around the basket, is a double-double threat and is a capable interior defender.
The Anteaters are one of the teams that have been hit with heavy losses due to the transfer portal. Head coach Tamara Inoue has been one of the best coaches in the conference though and despite having a different look this season, expect them to still be a competitive team.
Leading the way for the Anteaters will be sixth-year wing, Naomi Hunt. Last season was Hunt’s first year in Irvine after transferring from Long Beach State. She was a double-digit scorer at the Beach, but her numbers dipped a little bit last year. But with the Anteaters’ top scoring options all gone, look for Hunt to see a rise in her offense with more touches.
The Anteaters will also hope for internal development from sophomore guard Hunter Hernandez, sophomore wing Olivia Williams and sophomore guard Nikki Tom. Hernandez and Williams were named to the Big Wes All-Freshman Team last season. Hernandez was a consistent threat off the bench last season and could play for a starting spot this year. Williams stood out as an elite shooting threat from three-point range and was a part-time starter as a freshman. By the end of the season in the WNIT, Tom was a starter and a solid floor leader who could find the balance between scoring and playmaking.
The Anteaters will be thin up front, however. This is a guard/wing-heavy team and they’ll lean on some transfers of their own to play the post. Junior forward Nevaeh Dean brings energy on the glass and a presence defensively. Junior center Nevaeh Parkinson is an efficient scorer in the paint. And junior forward Nyagoa Gony is capable of being a defensive anchor.
The Highlanders had a solid year, with head coach Nicole Powell finishing up her third season at UC Riverside. They made it to the Big West Tournament semifinals knocking off UC Santa Barbara in the process before falling to eventual champion Hawaii. They lost a couple of their top-scoring threats, but that opens the door for a couple of returners to step it up.
Redshirt junior forward Matehya Bryant was a solid contributor off the bench last season and shot the ball efficiently (51.6 percent). She has good size and could find herself the beneficiary of more offensive touches. Junior guard Jordan Webster was named to the Big West All-Freshman team two years ago and has proven herself to be a capable scorer and rebounder. She too should see more touches on the offensive end.
The team will also hope for immediate impact from junior guard Paris Atchley, a transfer from Idaho. Atchley played high school basketball at La Jolla Country Day in the San Diego area and is returning to Southern California after two seasons with the Vandals. She carved out a role off the bench at Idaho and should be ready to take on more of a role with UC Riverside.
The Highlanders will also be looking for immediate impact from some of their incoming freshmen. Guard Sasha Murphy was a good scoring guard during her high school career at Rolling Hills Prep and has skills that translate to the college level. Guard Jordyn Marshall is a capable ball-handler and playmaker. Forward/center Hanna Hansson can space the floor with her shooting, score in the paint and provide interior defense. Guard Zoe Tillery is a solid all-around player who can play both guard positions.
UC San Diego
The Tritons are still unable to participate in the Big West Tournament as they are still transitioning from Division 2 to Division 1. Even so, they should still be a formidable team. They are one of the few teams in the Big West that is upperclassmen heavy and that experience should lead to wins and an improvement on last season’s 10-8 conference record.
Everything with the Tritons begins with graduate student Julia Macabuhay. Macabuhay has been with the team since their D2 days and is one of the best point guards in the Big West. She was named to a Big West All-Honorable Mention last season and should be in the running for an All-Conference spot this season. A very good playmaker and shooting threat, Macabuhay runs the offense efficiently and will have this team highly competitive.
The Tritons also retain the services of leading scorer Sydney Brown. Brown can get to the free-throw line consistently and can be a force on the boards. She can shoot well too, with a career mark of 36.8 percent from three-point range.
The one player on the roster that is set to make a big jump is junior guard Parker Montgomery. She has been a solid player with the second unit the past couple of seasons and has seen her points per game increase each year. She can score from all three levels and puts pressure on the defense with her off-the-dribble game. She is someone who can ultimately work her way into the starting lineup.
Two other key contributors will be redshirt senior guard Emily Cangelosi and graduate student Madison Baxter. Baxter was the team’s top three-point threat last season at 48 percent. Cangelosi also shot it well from distance at 35.2 percent and is a good rebounder for a guard.
UC Santa Barbara
The Gauchos are another team that will still be led predominantly by upperclassmen. Most of last season’s team is coming back and they have a few new players that can make an impact.
Leading the way is senior center Ila Lane who is one of the top post players in the country. She was named to the preseason Lisa Leslie award watch list for the top center in college basketball. She returned to the court last season after choosing to sit out the 2020-21 season amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a gifted low-post scorer who shot 58 percent from the field this season. She is a perennial All-Conference player and a big reason why the Gauchos have their sights set on a potential conference title.
Lane will be complimented on the wing with senior guard Alexis Tucker. Tucker has good size for a guard and is versatile offensively with her ability to shoot off the dribble, her ability to get to the free-throw line and her three-point shooting. She is one of the best guards in the Big West and should be a lock for a spot on the All-Conference team. She can score the ball and get buckets in a hurry.
Senior forward Taylor Mole will help round out the frontcourt. Two seasons ago, she was a regular starter but transitioned into a contributing role off the bench last year. She is a capable scoring option and three-point shooter and does well on the glass.
Picking up some of the playmaking will be sophomore guard Callie Cooper. Cooper played sparingly last season but turned in solid efforts in the Gauchos’ two exhibition games against Life Pacific and Hope International. She showed the ability to be a primary ball-handler and she racked up the assists with 12 over the two games.
One player who has some intriguing potential is third-year wing, Alexis Whitfield. Whitfield is a transfer from Washington who showed some solid potential as a freshman during the 2020-21 season despite missing a lot of time due to injury. Last season she was a regular off the bench for the Huskies. She has the capability of being the team’s sixth woman this season.
Written by David Yapkowitz
David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.