November 3, 2021 

2021-22 Big West preview

A chance at a new-look top of the conference

Another college basketball season is here and with it, perhaps a shakeup in the Big West Conference.

Last season was certainly a unique season, to put it lightly. Many teams had their seasons paused for large portions of the year with games being canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Cal State Northridge decided to opt-out of the season altogether.

But all of that didn’t matter in the end as the conference tournament was filled with nail biters and tough play; each team fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament and proving that their individual records might not have been reflective of their overall talent.

Reigning conference champion UC Davis has earned the No. 1 seed in the last five conference tournaments and has been the conference’s representative in the NCAA Tournament for the past two seasons (2019 and 2021 as the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic). They return a veteran group looking to make that three in a row.

But there might be a few other teams hoping to steal that mantle from the Aggies. With hopefully a much different season than last year, with teams not having to worry about so many pauses and cancellations, this might turn out to be one of the more memorable Big West seasons in recent memory.

Here’s a complete breakdown of each team in alphabetical order and how they might stack up this season.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

2020-21 record: 13-11; 8-8 in conference play

Key Returners: Maddie Willet, Hannah Scanlan, Maddie Vick

Key Departures: Sierra Campisano, Abbey Ellis, Leslie Hunter, Malia Holt, Hannah Peterson

Key Newcomers: Sarah Dumitrescu, Jazzy Anousinh

The Mustangs are a team that felt that the conference championship might have been theirs back in 2020 had the postseason not been canceled due to the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were making a spectacular run in the Big West Tournament and seemed to be on a collision course with UC Davis. Last season, they squeaked out a win over Long Beach State before falling to UC Irvine.

This season, they will be without their star duo of forward Sierra Campisano, who graduated, and guard Abbey Ellis who transferred to Purdue. All signs point to a regression for the Mustangs. They will have a pretty good floor leader in junior point guard Maddie Vick. Vick played in all 24 games last season and led the team in assists (2.8) per game while coming off the bench. She will get her chance to show what she can do this season as the starting point guard.

Another key returner is junior guard Maddie Willett. Willett was a starter last year and was one of the team’s better three-point shooters even if her percentages don’t really reflect that. She’s a capable scorer and solid rebounder as well.

There is one incoming freshman who should make an immediate impact. Point guard Jazzy Anousinh hails from La Jolla Country Day, where she played in the backcourt alongside Oregon rising star Te-Hina Paopao. Anousinh’s ball-handling and playmaking allowed Paopao to play off-ball and that’s exactly what she will bring to the Mustangs. She’ll be a capable facilitator and help open up scoring opportunities for the rest of the team.

Prediction: Faith Mimnaugh has always been one of the best coaches in the Big West and there is just enough talent on this roster for her to squeeze out a conference tournament appearance. They probably put a brief scare into a higher seed, but that’s as far as they’ll go.

Cal State Bakersfield

2020-21 record: 9-9; 7-6 in conference play

Key Returners: Jayden Eggleston, Lexus Green, Andie Easley, Vanessa Austin

Key Departures: None

Key Newcomers: Kayla Morris

The Roadrunners have a lot of reason for optimism heading into this season. For starters, they return all of last season’s roster. They were one of the main teams to have been affected by COVID shutdowns, it was their first season in the Big West, and they still managed to earn a top-four seed in the conference tournament. They played tough against Hawaii before eventually bowing out in the quarterfinals.

Redshirt junior Jayden Eggleston has been with the team since they were in the Western Athletic Conference. Last season, she emerged as one of the top players in the Big West earning a spot on the All-Conference Second Team. Eggleston led the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. Sophomore point guard Lexus Green also looks to take another leap forward. As a freshman, she was one of the top point guards in the conference. The starting lineup will likely be rounded out with senior guard Andie Easley, senior center Vanessa Austin, and junior forward Miracle Saxon. Austin and Saxon give the Roadrunners one of the most imposing frontlines in the conference while Easley is one of the Big West’s better three-point bombers.

This is an upperclassman, veteran team, but the Roadrunners do have one newcomer who can crack the rotation right away in forward Kayla Morris, a transfer from Eastern Carolina. Morris is a very good defensive player in the paint and she will help boost an already strong frontcourt.

Prediction: Greg McCall has already proved himself in one season as one of the conference’s top coaches. He got the most out of his roster despite the numerous setbacks they had. Look for the Roadrunners to grab another top-four finish in the conference and this time, advance past the quarterfinals.

Cal State Fullerton

2020-21 record: 4-18; 2-14 in conference play

Key Returners: Anniken Frey, Ashlee Lewis, Carolyn Gill, Kathryn Neff

Key Departures: Joy Krupa, Aimee Book, Megan Nieto

Key Newcomers: Brianna Furch, Aixchel Hernandez

Despite being one of the bottom teams in the Big West last season, the Titans had a decent showing in the conference tournament. They upset UC Riverside in the opening round and then put a scare into UC Davis in the quarterfinals. This season, they’re going to need some internal development to try and keep that momentum. They lost two of their top three scorers in Aimee Book and Joy Krupa.

A pair of sophomores should play key roles this season. Center Ashlee Lewis was a capable reserve at times last season as a freshman with 5.8 points per game and 4.4 rebounds. She’s a skilled low post player and could potentially have a breakout season. Guard Anniken Frey also looks ready to take another leap forward. She was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (9.1 points) and their best three-point shooter at 44.2 percent.

Junior forward Kathryn Neff was a dependable rotation player last season and should be ready to take on an increased role. And the Titans will once again have the services of do-it-all forward Carolyn Gill, who is a graduate student this year. A couple of years ago, Gill was named the Big West Hustle Player of the Year and she certainly lives up to that mantle. She doesn’t need the ball in her hands to be effective; she’s a rebounder, a defender, and does whatever else is needed to win.

The Titans do have some interesting freshmen in guard Brianna Furch and forward Aixchel Hernandez. Furch was a good defensive player in high school and Hernandez is a floor-spacing big with good size.

Prediction: The Titans have a bounce-back year and finish the season closer to .500 than they did last season. They will make the Big West Tournament but it might be tough for them to win a round.

Jordyn Jackson. (Photo courtesy of CSUN Athletics)

Cal State Northridge

2020-21 record: Opted out of season

Key Returners: Meghann Henderson, Jordyn Jackson, Olivia Smith, Anaiyah Tu’ua

Key Departures: Deja Williams, Brandy Huffhines

Key Newcomers: Michelle Duchemin, Jayda Adams, Kayanna Spriggs, De’Jah Williams

The Matadors are the mystery team of the conference since nobody got to see them play last season. When players were given the opportunity to opt-out of the season due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, CSUN had a few players choose to do so, leaving them without enough players to field a proper team. They ended up losing rising point guard Deja Williams, who transferred to Cleveland State, and they lost head coach Lindsey Foster.

This iteration of the Matadors will be spearheaded by the two of the longest-tenured players on the team — graduate forward Meghann Henderson and redshirt junior guard Jordyn Jackson. The last time CSUN played during the 2019-20 season, Henderson had a breakout year. She emerged as a capable scorer and one of the conference’s better defensive players. She’s never averaged double-digits in scoring yet, but look for that to change this season.

Jackson was named to the conference All-Freshman team back during the 2018-19 season, and she also had a breakout year during 2019-20. Jackson became one of the Matadors’ most dependable playmakers and three-point shooters and she incorporated a solid slashing game as well. She should be one of the team’s primary facilitators with the ball in her hands a majority of the time. Look for her to become one of the best guards in the Big West.

The majority of the team, however, will be made up of newcomers; a couple of transfers, some incoming freshmen, and players who were freshmen last season but didn’t get to play. Two key transfers are guard Jayda Adams and forward De’jah Phillips. Adams comes from Duke, where she was on her way to being a dynamic guard before injuries caused her to miss the past two seasons. Phillips is a rugged frontcourt addition from Iona.

One additional player to watch for is redshirt junior Tess Amundsen. It’s taken her three seasons to make her debut, but she adds some nice size to the Matadors frontcourt. The frontcourt will also be bolstered by freshman Michelle Duchemin who should compete for minutes right away. Duchemin has a knack for rebounding and is very active around the rim.

New head coach Carlene Mitchell served as an assistant under C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers, was the head coach at UC Santa Barbara, an assistant in the WNBA with the Chicago Sky, and a coach in South Korea.

Prediction: she inherits an interesting roster, and if she can get a few of the newcomers to give some solid production, the Matadors could be in the mix for one of the conference’s lower seeds.

Hawaii

2020-21 record: 9-8; 7-6 in conference play

Key Returners: Amy Atwell, Daejah Phillips, Nae Nae Calhoun, Kelsie Imai

Key Depatures: Jadynn Alexander; Kasey Neubert

Key Newcomers: Asha Andrews, Maeve Donnelly, Kallin Spiller, McKenna Haire

Under head coach Laura Beeman, the Rainbow Wahine have always been a formidable team in the conference. She seems to get the most out of her new players and she’ll have a few to work with this season. Last season, they upset Cal State Bakersfield in the quarterfinals and gave UC Davis a scare in the semifinals.

One of the key players from last season’s team, guard Daejah Phillips, is back and ready to continue her upward trajectory. Phillips was key in the win over CSUB and immediately became a strong leader as a freshman. She’s an explosive guard who can score when she needs to, but also distribute the ball and get teammates easy shots. She settled into a Sixth Player role last season, but look for her to regain the starting position she had at the beginning of the year. She’ll be joined by fellow freshman Kelsie Imai who was thrust into the starting point guard spot due to injuries. She was solid; she did her job and played the role of facilitator.

Hawaii will get a much-needed return though with point guard Nae Nae Calhoun. Calhoun was a standout as a freshman in 2019-20, but she suffered an injury that kept her out last season. She is a good playmaker and a slasher, but she will need to become a consistent threat from three-point range.

The veteran leadership will come from center Amy Atwell, who is a graduate student now. Atwell bolsters the frontcourt with her rebounding and her ability to space the floor with her outside shooting. She’s long been one of Beeman’s most dependable players and she’s back for one more go-round.

There will be some newcomers though for Beeman to work her magic with. The Ivy League canceled sporting competition last season and the Rainbow Wahine were the beneficiary of two Ivy League transfers. They picked up McKenna Haire from Princeton and Kallin Spiller from Columbia. Haire is a good shooter from distance and a guard who can take advantage of smaller defenders. Spiller is a traditional big who can get baskets in the paint.

Prediction: As mentioned before, the Rainbow Wahine are always competitive under Beeman. She gets the most out of her players and there’s no reason why this season won’t be more of the same. Look for Hawaii to be in the mix for the conference’s 4-6 seed and perhaps even upset a higher seed in the first round of the Big West Tournament.


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Long Beach State

2020-21 record: 12-9; 11-7 in conference play

Key Returners: Justina King, Jasmine Hardy, Myrrah Joseph, Kianna Hamilton-Fisher, Patricia Chung

Key Departures: None

Kew Newcomers: Maddi Utti, Brandy Huffhines, Teodora Popovic

Long Beach State is the most intriguing team in the conference. They’ve improved each year under head coach Jeff Cammon, and although they were upset by Cal Poly in the conference quarterfinals, there’s reason to believe they take another step forward. They don’t have any key losses and they have some pretty solid new additions.

This team starts and ends with junior guard Justina King. She’s a very capable scorer and she led the team in scoring last season at 13.7 points per game. But she’s always been able to impact the game without scoring. She’s just a solid floor leader who keeps the offense flowing and can get her teammates easy scoring opportunities. She’s a good defender as well.

She’ll get some help from fellow junior Jasmine Hardy who is in line for a breakout season. Hardy can switch between guard and forward and she’s a double-double threat. She was a part-time starter last season and did well in her role. The frontcourt will also be bolstered by Myrrah Joseph. Joseph transferred last season from Hawaii and did well in a reserve role. She is capable of scoring in the low post and she’s worked to become more of an outside threat as well.

A couple of other returners who should make solid impacts are redshirt sophomore guard Kianna Hamilton-Fisher and sophomore point guard Patricia Chung. Hamilton-Fisher was a starter last season who can rebound the ball and play solid defense. Chung might be able to play together at times with King. Chung is a good playmaker, a solid defender and rebounds well for a guard.

The transfer portal is where CSULB will get a boost from. They have two key transfers in junior guard Brandy Huffhines and senior forward Maddi Utti. Huffhines was supposed to make her Division 1 debut at CSUN, but she redshirted her first year and the team opted out of playing last year. She’s a good scoring guard who will boost the bench. Utti arrives from Fresno State where she was the 2020 Mountain West Player of the Year and one of the conference’s best defensive players. She will give CSULB some additional size in the frontcourt.

Prediction: This season ends up being the best so far in the Jeff Cammon era. Long Beach State will fight for a top-three seed again in the conference and this time, they will not lose in the quarterfinals. This team will be a threat to snatch the conference crown from UC Davis.

UC Davis

2020-21 record: 13-3, 9-1 in conference

Key Returners: Sage Stobbart, Cierra Hall, Kenedy Lilly, Evanne Turner

Key Departures: Mackenzie Trpcic

Key Newcomers: Sydney Burns, Megan Norris
The Aggies are losing Mackenzie Trpcic, but they will return every other key member from last season’s Big West conference championship team. Their road to the conference’s automatic NCAA berth wasn’t so easy this past season. They had some tense moments against Cal State Fullerton and Hawaii. They were in a tough fight against UC Irvine before a late run helped break the game open. But despite some strides other teams have made, the Aggies have a good chance to win the conference again.

The main leadership on the court will come from senior forward Cierra Hall and redshirt-senior center Sage Stobbart. Hall has steadily been improving each of her seasons at UC Davis, and she had a breakout year as a full-time starter and one of the primary offensive weapons. The 2021 Big West Player of the Year has blossomed into a very well-rounded and versatile player who score, rebound, defend, and even play facilitator. Stobbart anchors the team in the middle as one of the best interior defenders in the country. She’s a double-double threat and also became a full-time starter this season. It’s hard to find a better one-two punch in the conference.

One returning player to keep an eye on is junior guard Evanne Turner. Turner also stepped into the starting lineup for the first time last season after being named to the Big West All-Freshman team the year before. She’s a big guard who can put the ball on the floor. She’s one of the best three-point shooters in the conference, hitting threes at a 41.6 percent clip. She’s going to be that dependable third scorer behind Hall and Stobbart.

The most intriguing player on the roster, who can really help the Aggies defend their conference title, is redshirt sophomore center Kenedy Lilly. Lilly was a pretty highly touted recruit two years ago but ended up redshirting her freshman year. Last season, she made her Aggies debut but didn’t make much of an impact in limited minutes off the bench. She’s a talented post player and a great rebounder who can certainly become one of the best bigs in the conference. She should have a big year for UC Davis.

Prediction: Head coach Jennifer Gross has long been one of the top coaches in the country and she always has her team prepared. The returning talent is among the best in the conference. UC Davis will have a couple of teams vying for the top spot, but the Aggies will still earn a top 2 seed and will make it to the conference championship game with a good chance at repeating.

UC Irvine

2020-21 record: 15-9; 11-4 in conference play

Key Returners: Kayla Williams, Chloe Webb, Sophia Locandro

Key Departures: Tahlia Garza, Haleigh Talbert, Dani Guglielmo, Alexus Seaton

Key Newcomers: Naomi Hunt, Tara Dusharm

The Anteaters were a team that a year ago had enough talent to contend with UC Davis. And they did, at least for about three quarters. UC Davis blitzed them though in the fourth quarter of the conference championship game and ended up winning handily. UC Irvine lost some key players from last season and the team that remains might not be enough to get back to where they were.

A lot of what the Anteaters want to do starts with redshirt freshman Kayla Williams. Williams made her Anteaters debut last season and was named the conference Freshman of the Year as well as making the All-Conference First Team and the All-Tournament Team. Williams is one of the most explosive guards in the conference, capable of putting up points in a hurry. She’s also a good playmaker and defender and the engine that makes the team go.

If Williams is the team’s perimeter anchor, then sophomore center Sophia Locandro is the team’s interior anchor. She emerged last season as a full-time starter and one of the best defensive players in the conference. She’s a force on the glass and an efficient scoring threat. She’s on pace to continue her upward climb.

The Anteaters will also look to a pair of transfers for immediate help. They will incorporate Naomi Hunt, who transferred from Long Beach State, and Tara Dusharm, who came from Pepperdine. Dusharm will bolster the frontcourt with her size and shot-blocking, while Hunt will space the floor with her three-point shooting.

Prediction: The Anteaters will field a roster made up largely of freshmen (7) and sophomores (5). If head coach Tamara Inoue can get a few of those freshmen to make immediate impacts, UC Irvine could find themselves in the mix for a top 5 seed in the conference. It’s more likely that they have some growing pains, but still end up with one of the bottom 6-9 seeds in the conference.

UC Riverside

2020-21 record: 7-12; 5-9 in conference play

Key Returners: Daphne Gnago, Keilanei Cooper, Jada Holland, Jordan Webster

Key Departures: Lauryn Pointer, Joy Campbell

Key Newcomers: Matehya Bryant, Esther Matarranz
The Highlanders are a team that looked poised to take a big step forward. They got in as the eighth seed last season but were upset in a close one by Cal State Fullerton. They also had a big season win over a Pac-12 opponent in USC. They will be returning their key rotation players and head coach Nicole Powell gets another year to work with this roster.

UC Riverside will be led by senior guard Keilanei Cooper and sophomore guard Jordan Webster, the two top scorers from last season. Cooper has a good slashing game and can play both on and off-ball. Webster is also an explosive scorer who had several big games for the Highlanders last season. The two of them along with sophomore guard Jada Holland make up a solid wing trio. Holland is a transfer from Grand Canyon who had a strong first season with the Highlanders. She’s a playmaking guard who can score if need be.

The Highlanders frontcourt is anchored by redshirt junior forward Daphne Gnago. Gnago has been improving every season and she’s become a legitimate double-double threat. She’s an efficient scorer in the paint and she’s a strong inside defensive presence.

The frontcourt will also be bolstered by a pair of newcomers in redshirt sophomore forward Matehya Bryant and freshman Esther Matarranz. Bryant hails from Grand Canyon and was a key interior player for them on the defensive end. Matarranz arrives from Spain and is a solid rebounding presence.

Prediction: The Highlanders will finish closer to .500 this season. They will be in the mix for a top 5 seed in the conference and might be able to win a round. Continued development from the players already on the roster is going to be key to potential success.

UC San Diego

2020-21 record: 6-9; 6-9 in conference

Key Returners: Parker Montgomery, Julia Macabuhay, Sydney Brown, Emily Cangelosi

Key Departures: Tyla Turner

Key Newcomers: Ula Chamberlin, Alex Obouh Fegue

The Tritons didn’t have that great of a first-year in the Big West. They were the lone team that didn’t make the Big West Tournament. They will also feature one of the youngest rosters in the conference with six incoming freshmen. They will have some key returners though who will be critical to whatever success they want to have.
UC San Diego will hope for a bounce-back year from senior guard Julia Macabuhay. Macabuhay missed a large part of last season due to injury. She’s one of the better point guards in the conference, a strong playmaker and ball-handler who takes care of the ball and can run an offense efficiently. A healthy Macabuhay will do wonders for this team. The backcourt will also be strengthened by sophomore guard Parker Montgomery. Montgomery was one of the conference’s best long-range shooters at 39.7 percent. She’s expanded her game as well to be able to make plays off the dribble.

They’ll also look to redshirt senior guard Emily Cangelosi, who helps spearhead the Tritons’ long-range attack. She shot 43.8 percent from distance and started all 15 games for UC San Diego. Returning senior wing Sydney Brown will also play a key role this season. Brown can switch between guard and forward and she is one of the conference’s better rebounders. She’s a good shot blocker and a capable scorer.

In addition to their bevy of freshmen, the Tritons will welcome two transfers, Alex Obouh Fegue from Virginia Tech and Ula Chamberlain from Weber State. Obouh Fegue strengthens the frontcourt with her post play and rebounding while Chamberlain adds depth to the backcourt with her size and scoring ability.

Prediction: With a healthy Macabuhay, the Tritons have a much better season than last year. They will be in the mix for one of the bottom seeds in the conference tournament.

UC Santa Barbara

2020-21 record: 7-14, 7-9 in conference

Key Returners: Danae Miller, Ila Lane, Johnni Gonzalez, Taylor Mole

Key Departures: Bri Anugwom, Doris Jones, Natalia Bruening

Key Newcomers: Alexis Tucker, Kennedy Johnson

The Gauchos have gotten better every season under head coach Bonnie Henrickson, but last season was an anomaly, as it was for most teams. They lost a key part of their rotation in center Ila Lane who decided to opt-out of the season. The Gauchos proved though that their record was not indicative of their talent, as they nearly upset UC Irvine in the conference tournament.

All-Conference guard, senior Danae Miller is back in action this season. Miller is one of the most lethal scoring guards in the Big West. Despite being a good scorer, Miller hasn’t been much of a three-point shooter during her college career. If she does look to incorporate the three-point shot into her game this season, she could take her game to new heights.

The big question mark and potential difference-maker is the return of center Ila Lane. Lane is one of the most talented post players in the country. As a freshman during the 2019-20 season, Lane actually led the NCAA in rebounding. She is very skilled in the post and with her back in the fold. She’ll be joined in the frontcourt by senior forward Taylor Mole who had a breakout 2020-21 with 14.3 points per game and moving into the starting lineup.

The Gauchos did add a talented transfer in guard Alexis Tucker from Texas Tech. Tucker is a big guard who can get into the paint off the dribble and she can shoot it consistently from both midrange and the three-point line. It’s possible that Tucker cracks the starting lineup from the get-go and forms a lethal duo alongside Miller.

Prediction: Ila Lane and Alexis Tucker provide some much needed help and the Gauchos will be back fighting for one of the top seeds in the conference.

Written by David Yapkowitz

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