June 29, 2023 

State of the Program: Purdue welcomes many new faces after dancing in Geralds’ Year 2

Boilermakers hope young group gels after NCAA Tournament trip

Katie Gearlds knows what Purdue’s capable of. After all, she played in West Lafayette just four years after the Boilermakers won the national championship, and her teams reached the NCAA tournament in all four seasons as a player.

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Now heading into her third season as the program’s head coach, Gearlds’ team — at least the five returners — received an ever-so-brief taste of NCAA tournament action last season that it hopes to parlay into further successes in 2023-24.

But with so much roster turnover — seven players leaving, eight players coming to West Lafayette — it’ll be no simple task, especially in a conference where team continuity seems to correlate strongly with success. But the 2023 recruiting class will be the first that Gearlds’ fingerprints are truly all over.

The Boilermakers finished 2022-23 at 19-11 overall and 9-8 in the conference. If not for a late-season road loss to Minnesota, Purdue might’ve avoided the First Four round. Instead, it had to play St. John’s where the Boilermakers came up short, 66-64.

“I think the best way to put it is a step in the right direction for where we want to take the program,” Gearlds said of the season. “Year two was better than year one, so hopefully year three is even better. Now the goal becomes getting in the tournament, winning games in the tournament.”

2022-23 record: 19-11 (9-8 Big Ten); lost in First Four to St. John’s (66-64)

Big Ten finish: 7th

Notable wins: @ Illinois (62-52), @ Ohio State (73-65)

Departures: Lasha Petree (graduation), Cassidy Hardin (graduation), Rickie Woltman (graduation), Lilly Stoddard (transferring to Butler), Ava Learn (transferring to Murray State), Addison Potts (transferring), Ainhoa Holzer (returning home to Switzerland)

Additions: Amiyah Reynolds (first-year), Rashunda Jones (first-year), McKenna Layden (first-year), Mary Ashley Stevenson (first-year), Emily Monson (first-year), Sophie Swanson (first-year), Alaina Harper (transferring from Grand Canyon), Mila Reynolds (transferring from Maryland)

Key returners: Abbey Ellis, Caitlyn Harper

Two of the key reasons for Purdue’s success last year graduating from the program means major holes to fill for Gearlds. Lasha Petree, who transferred to West Lafayette from Rutgers before last season, led the team with 14.7 points per game and shot nearly 38% from 3-point range. In addition, Cassidy Hardin, who chose to return for her fifth season at Purdue in 2022-23, averaged nearly eight points per game. But her impact transcended just her numbers. As a veteran presence, she provided leadership that only made Gearlds’ job easier.

“I can never say enough about her,” Gearlds said of Hardin. “She’s a true Boilermaker. She’s everything you want to coach. She did everything the right way. You’re talking about 5’9, 5’10, and maybe that’s a push, and we’re making her guard post players, and she just did whatever she could for us.

“I don’t know if people understand how much we covered up for it defensively with her willingness to sacrifice her body and take as many charges as she did. Just leadership. … Cass Hardin’s legacy will live on for a very, very long time here.”

Meanwhile, in just the one season, Petree shined as one of the top scorers in the conference.

“She took a chance on us because she liked the way we played, liked the way we were on the sideline with the girls,” Gearlds said. “She was just so big for us, her ability to score from all three levels and put pressure on the opposing team. Her competitiveness, she’s one of the toughest competitors every day in practice, just her ability to compete, it started to become contagious a little bit. Our group really started to pick up on that drive that Lasha carried.”

To replace Petree and Hardin, Purdue will have to count – in part – on some combination of six first-year players and two transfers joining the program. Amiyah Reynolds, a 6’0 guard from South Bend, Ind. will redshirt; the other five, including Amiyah’s sister, Mila, and former high school teammate Rashunda Jones should have ample opportunities to contribute.

The five returners, Gearlds said, will play quite a bit, but there are still 200 minutes per game they need to fill; those five can’t play all of them. If what she’s seen so far is any indication though, the new players’ passion for the game and where they’re playing should bode well for some early success.

“They love Purdue, and they bleed black and gold,” Gearlds said of the first-year group. “They do great things to our culture, what we’re trying to build. Maybe we win games we’re not supposed to win and maybe we lose games we’re not supposed to lose because of our youth, but I think we’ve got a really good group. I’m excited about what they can bring for Purdue.”

While one of Purdue’s biggest challenges in 2023-24 might be developing continuity with so many new players, it sets the Boilermakers up for a potential long run of success if the group sticks together. It’s not too often a program brings in this many young players at the same time. Now, they’ll have the chance to gel and potentially play together for the next three or four years.

“I’m a really big believer in being in the trenches with your teammates for two, three years,” Gearlds said. “By your third, your fourth year, you’ve been through it, and it’s just a lot easier to fight for that person next to you. Kind of similar to what Matt [Painter] does on the men’s side. His guys stay together for a really long time.”

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Beyond contributions from the first-year players, if Purdue has a big 2023-24, fifth year Abbey Ellis will likely be a key scorer. Coming off a season where she was the team’s second-leading point-getter (11.2 PPG), she’s likely going to have to fill the scoring void created by Petree’s graduation.

Similar to how Gearlds’ talked about Hardin’s impact on the program, Ellis brings an energy and passion to the program that surely galvinizes the group.

“She gives us everything she has every single day,” Gearlds said of Ellis. “Her summer schedule is crazy with her student teaching and her ability to slide workouts in and make it to weights and make it to conditioning in the morning. … She’s so passionate. We talk a lot about this being a really big year for her.”

Ellis will be joined among the returning group by Caitlyn Harper – last season’s third-leading scorer – Jayla Smith, Jeanae Terry and Madison Layden.

All together, Purdue feels confident in what the future holds. Even if 2023-24 might be a bit of a challenge merely because of a lack of experience, there’s certainly no shortage of passion for the black and gold in West Lafayette.

“I think the most exciting thing for us up here in the offices is just how much this group loves Purdue and how much you can already see their willingness to battle for each other in a short amount of time,” Gearlds said. “They’re hungry, and they’ll play with a chip on their shoulder because that’s just who they are.”

For further offseason reading on Big Ten women’s basketball, check out Eric Rynston-Lobel’s full State of the Program series.

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Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

1 Comment

  1. Juan Tolliver on June 30, 2023 at 6:01 pm

    Point guard Ainhoa Holzer has just signed with BCF Elfic Fribourg and will be competing in the FIBA EuroCup Women next season – alongside teammates such as Jayla Everett from St. John’s, who made on last March 16th a winning shot, with only 0.3 seconds left, abruptly ending Purdue’s dance with a score of 66-64 and sending Gearlds’ boilermakers back home to West Lafayette… not entirely convinced that Purdue will be given a chance to dance again in March 2024!

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