October 21, 2022 

2022-23 WCC preview

Gonzaga is once again the favorite but there is a lot to be excited about in the WCC this year

The West Coast Conference (WCC) is considered one of the best mid-major conferences in the country. In seven of the last ten years, they have sent multiple teams to the NCAA tournament. However, heading into the 2022-23 season, the conference might be as wide open as ever. Reigning regular-season champ BYU has a new head coach and is heading to the Big 12 after this season. WCC stalwart Gonzaga has to replace four starters. San Francisco and Portland are up-and-coming programs ready to stake their claim for the championship. This WCC preview gives some insight into what should be another exciting season of basketball on the West Coast.

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The conference’s coaches voted on how they think the season will shake out, so let’s take a look at each team, in alphabetical order.


March 7, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; BYU Cougars celebrate against the Portland Pilots during the second half of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada | WCC)

2021-22 record: 25-4 (15-1 in the WCC, No. 1 in the conference)

Head coach: Amber Whiting, first year

Coaches Poll position: Third

Key returners (stats from 2021-22):

  • Lauren Gustin* (10.7 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 50.7% FG%)
  • Nani Falatea (3.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 52.5% 3P%)
  • Emma Calvert (4.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG)

Key losses:

  • Shaylee Gonzales, transferred to Texas (18.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2021-22 WCC POY)
  • Paisley Johnson, graduated (17.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG)
  • Teagan Graham, graduated (10 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.8 APG)
  • Jeff Judkins, retired head coach

Key newcomers:

  • Amber Whiting
  • Gabriela Bosquez, transfer from Arizona State

The Cougars were going to be in a tough place this year after one of the best seasons in school history last year; they already knew they were going to lose three starters to graduation. Then in April, 21-year head coach Jeff Judkins, the winningest in school history, retired out of the blue. A month later, BYU hired women’s basketball alumni Amber Whiting to be its new coach. Three weeks after that, 2021-22 WCC player of the year Shaylee Gonzales announced she had entered the transfer portal, ultimately transferring to Texas.

All this turmoil is a lot for any head coach to handle, let alone a first-year head coach, but that is what Amber Whiting is facing this year. Whiting has never coached at the collegiate level before, with all her coaching experience coming at the high school and AAU level. Then you add in the fact that BYU is headed to the Big 12 next year, and Whiting has big expectations riding on her shoulders.

From a roster perspective, the Cougars lost a lot. Four starters either graduated or transferred. They only return 31% of minutes played and 32% of their scoring from last year. They will have to rely heavily on last year’s WCC rebounding leader in Lauren Gustin. Gustin wasn’t a big scoring option last year, and will have a lot more asked of her on that side of the ball this season. The Cougars will also look for players like Nani Falatea, Kaylee Smiller and Emma Calvert to take big steps forward this year and try to replace all the scoring that departed. The addition of Gabby Bosquez from Arizona State should help give BYU some consistent point guard play from someone who has lots of college basketball experience under her belt.

If these players with limited experience can take a big leap forward, BYU should be able to compete at the same level it has over the past few years. Otherwise, it may be a long season in the first year of the Amber Whiting tenure for the Cougars’ final season in the WCC.

Coaches’ perspective:

“It’s amazing. First of all, the rich culture and the winning culture that they have a BYU is one thing I really want to try and follow in. But it’s a special place. I’ve played there and my husband played there and so we’ve just always had ties to BYU. So that’s what really drew me back in. I really like to play defense, get after it. And so that’s what I’ve been pushing [to] them. We’ve been going really detailed as far as how to cover ball screens and so that’s what we’ve kind of dialed into. They realize how important it is to me so that’s what happens first.”

Amber Whiting, to The Next

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Kaylynne Truong drives against San Francisco in the WCC Tournament. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada | WCC)

2021-22 record: 28-7 (15-2 WCC, No. 2 in the conference)

Head coach: Lisa Fortier, ninth year (205-54 at Gonzaga)

Coaches Poll position: First

Key returners:

  • Kayleigh Truong* (11.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.8 APG)
  • Kaylynne Truong* (10.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.4 APG)
  • Yvonne Ejim* (10.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 51.6% FG%, WCC Sixth Player of the Year)

Key losses:

  • Melody Kempton, graduated (11 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 54.3% FG%)
  • Cierra Walker, graduated (8.9 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 44.7% 3P%)
  • Abby O’Connor, graduated (6.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG)

Key newcomers:

  • Brynna Maxwell, transfer from Utah
  • Destiny Burton, JUCO transfer

The Bulldogs have been the star of the WCC for a long time. Head coach Lisa Fortier took over in Spokane, Wash. from Kelly Graves nine years ago and hasn’t looked back. In her eight seasons, Fortier has accumulated a 205-54 record, including six regular-season and four conference tournament titles. Despite all her success, Fortier has one of her most difficult jobs heading into this season, as the Zags have to replace four starters.

Gone from Spokane is conference tournament MVP and All-WCC First Team performer Melody Kempton and two career 1000-point scorers in Cierra Walker and Abby O’Connor. That is a lot for the Zags to replace, but they have the talent to do it. It will all start for Gonzaga with the play of the Troung twins, Kayleigh and Kaylynne. Kayleigh started every game last season and had 20 points in Gonzaga’s first-round win over Nebraska. Kaylynne, meanwhile, was a superstar off the bench, averaging double-digit scoring for the Bulldogs. Both sisters are great all-around guards who do as good a job scoring as they do setting up their teammates. They spent their offseason playing on both the Vietnamese national and 3×3 teams. They will hope to use that experience to help lead this Gonzaga team.

Another key piece for the Zags will be 2022 WCC Sixth Player of the Year Yvonne Ejim. Ejim showed flashes last year that she could be a superstar, scoring in double figures in half of her games despite coming off the bench. She is an incredibly athletic big who has great touch around the rim, and is expected to play a bigger role up front with both of Gonzaga’s starting frontcourt players graduating.

Added to this team is Utah transfer Brynna Maxwell. Maxwell, a native of Washington state, averaged 12.0 points for the Utes and was a 1000-point scorer across her career in Salt Lake City. She has a very quick shot, and her scoring will be a welcome presence for the Zags on the perimeter.

Even with some good returning production, the Bulldogs will need some new faces to step up this year, especially in the frontcourt to replace the production lost. Expect players like Eliza Hollingsworth, McKayla Williams and Maud Huijbens to play bigger roles and for one to possibly blossom into the next Bulldogs superstar. If the Zags can find some depth in the frontcourt, they will once again be the class of the WCC.

Coaches’ perspective:

“We’ve had some great stability within our coaching staff and our our team. We haven’t had a lot of people leave the program. People are bought into the goals and how we do things. They want to come and be a part of something, not be ‘the something.’ So that’s helped. I think that the culture piece is not just [an] off-court thing; it’s an on-court thing, they impact each other. I would say that ‘team-first attitude,’ the willingness to buy in [to] what we’re doing, and then the stability has been probably some of the biggest keys.”

Lisa Fortier, to The Next

Loyola Marymount

March 4, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions forward Jasmine Jones (20) against the Saint Mary’s Gaels during the second half of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada | WCC)

2021-22 record: 11-19 (4-13 WCC, No. 9 in the conference)

Head coach: Aarika Hughes, second year (11-19 at Loyola Marymount)

Coaches Poll position: Seventh

Key returners:

  • Ariel Johnson* (14.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.7 APG)
  • Alexis Mark (9.6 PPG, 8 RPG)
  • Nicole Rodriguez (8.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2 APG)

Key losses:

  • Jasmine Jones, graduated (8.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG)

Key newcomers:

  • Amaya Oliver, transfer from Southern California
  • Destiny Samuel, transfer from South Alabama
  • Layla Curry

Heading into the second year of the Aarika Hughes era comes with a lot of excitement around Loyola Marymount. Hughes came to Los Angeles before last season from just down the road in Pasadena, where she was the associate head coach for USC. In her first year, the Lions dealt with a lot of injuries and a new coach taking over amid a pandemic. Now, with a full year’s worth of recruiting and 86% of their minutes played returning, there is a buzz around this program.

The Lions will only have to replace the loss of one significant player, in Jasmine Jones. Jones had been at Loyola Marymount for five seasons and played a big leadership role for the team.

Returning this season is 2021-22 Second Team All-WCC Ariel Johnson. Johnson is an elite scorer from the midrange and around the rim, and is a pest on defense. In addition to Johnson, the Lions return two other key starters in Alexis Mark and Nicole Rodriguez. Mark was third in the conference in rebounding last season, and along with redshirt junior Kimora Sykes, played big moments for the Lions after transferring in from Boise State. Rodriguez is a steady hand in the backcourt and good 3-point shooter.

One player to watch going into this season is Khari Clark. Clark played a big role for the Loyola Marymount coming off the bench last season while averaging seven points and 3.5 rebounds per game. She is a quick player who is great at getting to the basket as well as hitting from the midrange. The Lions also added transfers Amaya Oliver from USC and Destiny Samuel from South Alabama. Samuel will help bring the Lions experience, while Oliver’s familiarity with Hughes should allow her to fit right in.

Hughes wants the Lions to play a physical brand of basketball and pressure teams on the defensive end of the ball. With so much returning for Loyola Marymount, there are higher expectations for the Lions this year. They won two games as the No. 9 seed at the WCC tournament last year, and if they can bring that short-term success to the whole season, they could surprise some teams.

Coaches’ perspective:

“I am a very happy to coach, in practice right now you can see it out in the floor, just the familiarity of what we do. And as we add pieces in and even though we had individuals that maybe didn’t touch the floor last year, it feels somewhat of a new team. So to see a lot of those senior leadership, whether it’s from Khari Clark or Ari Johnson — clearly Nicole Rodriguez being on the on the floor with us and playing significant minutes — I think that really helps what we’re doing and also eases the transition to help the new players as well.”

Aarika Hughes, to The Next


Elizabeth Elliot shoots free throw against Saint Mary’s. Photo Credit: Pacific WBB Twitter

2021-22 record: 6-23 (3-14 WCC, 10th in the conference)

Head coach: Bradley Davis, eighth year (91-116 at Pacific)

Coaches Poll position: Ninth

Key returners:

  • Anaya James (13.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.1 RPG)
  • Elizabeth Elliott (12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG)
  • Liz Smith (10.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.2 APG)

Key losses:

  • Jordan Cruz, transferred to Nevada (6.8 PPG, 1.3 RPG)

Key newcomers:

  • Kadie Deaton, transfer from North Dakota State
  • Sydney Ward

Pacific was a very young team last year, with only one senior on its roster to go with 10 underclassmen. It was the definition of a rebuilding year for a program that made the second round of the WNIT three years ago. Heading into this year, there’s optimism in Stockton, Calif., as the Tigers return the highest percentage of minutes played and scoring of any team in the WCC.

For Pacific, it all starts with the two sophomore stars: Anaya James and Elizabeth Elliot. James and Elliot combined to average 26 points and 11 rebounds per game their freshman campaigns. James is a crafty guard who can score at all three levels and does a great job of finding her open teammates, while Elliot is a strong down-low presence who can dominate on the glass as well. Their growth and development will not only help the Tigers improve, but decide what direction their season goes in.

Where the rest of the production comes for Pacific is a little bit of a mystery. The Tigers had eight players make at least 12 starts last year, with seven of those players returning this year. Junior guard Liz Smith is going to play a big role as well for this Pacific team, as she averaged double-digit scoring last year. She is a quick guard who can get to the basket and draws a lot of contact. After Smith, the Tigers will need to have players like Cecilia Holmberg, Erica Adams and Sam Ashby play a bigger role. They all contributed last year, but will need to elevate their games if Pacific wants to get out of the cellar of the WCC. The addition of Kadie Deaton, a transfer from North Dakota State, will also help the Tigers with depth on the perimeter, as she has shown an ability to be a scoring guard during her time with the Bison.

Last season, with such a young team, Pacific really struggled on defense. They had the worst defense in the entire conference, giving up an average of 76 points per game. Head coach Bradley Davis will hope the experience gained by all his young players will help them stop opponents, and hopefully allow them to win more games.

Coaches’ perspective:

“It’s one thing to have a young team, but it’s another thing to have a young team the year they say seniors can go back for a fifth year. The reality is we were playing against players that have been paying college since before the two that I’m with (Anaya James and Elizabeth Elliot) were actually in high school. That youth, I think it showed at times, especially down the stretch. We lost about 10 or 11 games that were two- or three-possession games. We hope that experience counts for something. I think they got more than just a year’s experience and that [from] a lot of those close games you get experience of coming from behind, [and] the experience of trying to hold a lead. You get a number of different experiences within that even just within the season that we played.”

Bradley Davis, to The Next

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Ally Stedman drives to the basket versus Santa Clara. (Photo Credit: Pepperdine Athletics via @WavesHoopes)

2021-22 record: 8-17, (4-11 WCC, No. 8 in the conference)

Head coach: Kristen Dowling, fourth year (29-50 at Pepperdine)

Coaches Poll position: 10th

Key returners:

  • Ally Stedman (11 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • Becky Obinma (7.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
  • Meaali’l Amosa (5.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG)

Key losses:

  • Malia Bambrick, transferred to Long Beach State (10 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • Cheynne Givens, transferred to Cal State Northridge (7.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 2.1 APG)

Key newcomers:

  • Theresa Grace Mbanefo, transfer from Cornell
  • Marly Walls, transfer from Bucknell

Pepperdine comes into this year having lost a lot of leadership and experience from last year. The Waves had three seniors graduate but use their additional year of eligibility at another school. The biggest one was career-1,000-point scorer Malia Bambrick. Now, fourth-year head coach Kristen Dowling has a team with one senior, and will be asking a lot of her younger players.

The only returning double-digit scorer for Pepperdine is Ally Stedman. Stedman burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and was named to the WCC All-Freshman team. She can score at all three levels, but makes her money in the midrange. She is flanked in the backcourt by junior Kendyl Carson. Carson isn’t a huge scoring guard, but has great court vision, dishing out almost four assists a game last year. The Waves also return two players who averaged at least six rebounds last season in Meaali’l Amosa and Becky Obinma, both of whom have great size and are a presence in the paint.

Dowling knew her team was lacking experience heading into the offseason. In order to address this, she plucked two grad transfers out of the portal. The first, Theresa Grace Mbanefo, is a 6’1 forward from Cornell. Mbanefo was the majority of the offense for the Big Red and her presence down low will be a nice boost for the Waves. The other transfer was Marly Walls, a 5’7 guard from Bucknell. Walls was a do-it-all guard for the Bison who excels on the defensive end, as she was named to the Patriot League All-Defensive team last year. She also brings postseason experience to Malibu, Calif., something the Waves could use in spades. Their experience and leadership will be vital to this team.

Just like Pacific, Pepperdine finished towards the bottom of the WCC standings last season. While the Tigers struggled on defense, the Waves struggled to score, putting up just 60 points per game. That number was second-worst in the conference last season. Dowling has put in a new, more transition-based offense for this upcoming season; we’ll see how effective it is with a lot of players being asked to play larger roles for Pacific. If it is effective, the Waves could be a sneaky team in the conference this year.

Coaches’ perspective:

“[Our two grad transfers] help tremendously, they’re immediate impact transfers for us, and they helped tremendously, not just on the court, but also off the court with their leadership. They have statistical experience backing them up, in-game experience backing them up — which, frankly, we haven’t had that. Marly is a point guard, and she does a great job defensively. She was a defensive player of the year last year, so she brings a great defensive presence to the court. And then she also brings great court vision, she’s a great passer. TG (Theresa Grace) is just a great rim-runner, she’s all-out, all energy, all the time.”

Kristen Dowling, to The Next


March 5, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Portland Pilots guard Emme Shearer (5) against the Loyola Marymount Lions during the first half of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada | WCC)

2021-22 record: 21-11 (9-7 WCC, No. 4 in the conference)

Head coach: Michael Meek, fourth year (56-35 at Portland)

Coaches Poll position: Second

Key returners:

  • Haylee Andrews* (11.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.7 APG)
  • Alex Fowler* (17.1 PPG, 8 RPG, 3 APG)
  • Maisie Burnham (9.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG)

Key losses:

  • Rose Pflug, graduated (7.7 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.4 APG)
  • Maddie Muhlheim, graduated (5.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG)

Key newcomers:

  • Florence Dallow
  • Melika Samia

The Pilots are coming off one of the best seasons in program history. In fact, the three years since Michael Meek took over as head coach are the second-best three-year stretch since Portland joined the WCC in 1987. Even though it won the conference tournament as the No. 4 seed in his first season, the Pilots didn’t get to show the country their prowess, as the 2020 NCAA tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But heading into this season, Portland has its highest expectations in a long time.

For the Pilots, everything runs through their Australian dynamic duo of Haylee Andrews and Alex Fowler. Andrews is a senior point guard who is one of the best playmakers in the country. She is a bigger point guard at 5’10, and Meek uses her in a lot of different ways in this Portland offense. She is coming off an ACL tear she suffered in February, and will most likely miss the first six-to-eight weeks of the season. She is the leader of this Pilot team, and her return will be a welcome sight for Portland.

Her teammate and fellow countrywoman Alex Fowler is the other star for the Pilots, a handful down low who has a myriad of moves to score around the basket. She has expanded her game over the past few seasons, and had a career-high in 3-point and free-throw attempts last season. These two have been playing together for a long time, and when they are on the floor together, they are almost impossible to guard.

The key for Portland will be finding scoring around Andrews and Fowler. The Pilots lost two key scorers and starters from last year in Rose Pflug and Maddie Muhlheim. Pflug stepped into the point guard spot when Andrews went down last year and played really well down the stretch, helping the Pilots get their first ever WNIT win. Muhlheim finished her career as the program leader in threes made during her career in Portland.

But the Pilots do have key rotation pieces returning this year. It starts with Maisie Burnham, who transferred to Portland before last season after winning the Big Sky Freshman of the Year award at Eastern Washington. She is a taller guard who can get to the basket and score in the midrange. They also return their defensive anchor in 6’6 Lucy Cochrane, who led the WCC in blocks with four per game. She also can score easily around the basket due to her size and length.

Portland plays a very interesting style with an aggressive press and zone defense on the back end. Meek takes a lot from Scott Reuck, who was his predecessor at George Fox, when it comes to offense. The Pilots run a lot of different actions on offense, and Meek does a great job of putting his players into positions to succeed. Andrews’ health and the ability to get others to score outside of her and Fowler will probably decide if the Pilots can live up to the high expectations.

Coaches’ perspective:

“I think that the character of our team, the togetherness, the selflessness, the willingness to be coached, but also to coach each other and to help us as coaches. I think we just have a really good group that really works hard on [caring] for one another, which I think has been really big with helping the fun of it, which has helped lead to some successes. I feel like it’s helped allow us to use our depth a little bit more, and I think players tend to like to play that that way. I do think it’s a factor, but also I think another factor is we’ve been really close to the top 10 in the nation [in] assists every year too. Even though I think a lot of people look at our defense, I think a lot of it’s just the willingness to share [the ball].”

Michael Meek, to The Next

Saint Mary’s

Taycee Wedin prepares to shoot a three for the Saint Mary’s Gaels against the Pacific Tigers. (Photo Credit: Saint Mary’s Athletics via @StMUwbb)

2021-22 record: 18-15 (9-9 WCC, No. 5 in the conference)

Head coach: Paul Thomas, 17th year (293-213)

Coaches Poll position: Fifth

Key returners:

  • Ali Bamberger* (15.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2 APG, 2022 WCC Newcomer of the Year)
  • Taycee Wedin (14.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 40% 3P%)
  • Tayla Dalton (9.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 APG)

Key losses:

  • Madeline Holland, graduated (12 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.7 APG)

Key newcomers:

  • Clair Steele, transfer from Lehigh
  • Daisia Mitchell

The Gaels look to be getting back to their winning ways after a great finish to last season. From 2009-2019, the Saint Mary’s had nine 20-win seasons. However, they had back-to-back under .500 seasons in 2019-2021. Last season, they finished the year strong, winning the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI), and feels they have the group to return to yet another postseason, their 12th appearance in 14 seasons.

For the Gaels, their success starts with 2021-22 WCC Newcomer of the Year Ali Bamberger. Bamberger, a 6’3 redshirt junior forward who transferred to Saint Mary’s from Washington before 2020-21, had a dominant first full season in the WCC. She was sixth in the conference scoring and second in rebounding, dominating around the rim as well as knocking down midrange jumpers and threes. Having her on the court last year was the biggest reason the Gaels were able to get back to their winning ways.

Bamberger teams up with 3-point specialist Taycee Wedin to make up Saint Mary’s 1-2 punch. Wedin became the WCC’s all-time leader in career 3-pointers last year with 323, including 106 last season while shooting 43% from beyond the arc. Wedin’s shooting ability pairs really well with Bamberger’s presence in the paint.

The biggest key for the Gaels this year will be replacing do-it-all point guard Madeline Holland. Holland averaged 12 points, six rebounds and four assists for Saint Mary’s last season in her fifth year in Moraga, Calif. She was a big point guard who filled whatever role was needed for the Gaels, and her leadership and experience can’t be put into words. Saint Mary’s will hope the addition of grad transfer point guard Clair Steele from Lehigh will ease the loss. Steele is a true point guard who had 131 assists last year — she can score, but would prefer to set up her teammates. Her ability to fit into the Gaels’ system will play a big factor in the team’s success.

Another key for Saint Mary’s will be getting production outside of their big two. They saw great growth from Tayla Dalton, who doubled her scoring average from her freshman year, scoring 10 a game last season. If the junior guard can continue to expand her game, that will be big for the Gaels. Sophomore guard Makena Mastora was named to the WCC All-Freshman team last year after averaging five points. She, junior guard Leia Hanafin and sophomore forward Aspen Garrison are expected to take big steps forward and player significant roles for Saint Mary’s this year. If the Gaels can get some of these other players to play at a higher level, they should push for yet another 20-win season.

Coaches perspective:

“Everybody is talking about the momentum you can get from winning the WBI and I do feel that our team is aware of that. They’re not saying ‘oh, we’re going to just roll over into this season,’ because they know the work it takes, but they also got the experience of feeling what winning is like. Winning a championship, it doesn’t matter where you win a championship, whether it’s your own tournament or go to somebody’s preseason tournament, winning is winning and we all know that’s what we’re all after, I think they have done a great job with that; they’ve carried it over and our practices have a little bit more pep and a little bit more competitiveness to them as they’ve been happening.”

Paul Thomas, to The Next

San Diego

The San Diego Toreros celebrate a basket in a game against the Santa Clara Broncos. (Photo Credit: San Diego Athletics via @USDwbb)

2021-22 record: 17-15 (8-9 WCC, No. 6 in the conference)

Head coach: Cindy Fisher, 18th year (311-210 at San Diego)

Coaches Poll position: Sixth

Key returners:

  • Myah Pace* (8 PPG, 5 RPG)
  • Kiera Oakry (8.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 APG)
  • Erica Martinsen (5.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.2 APG)

Key losses:

  • Steph Gorman, graduated (10.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.1 APG)
  • Sydney Hunter, graduated (11.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)
  • Jordyn Edwards, graduated (8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4 APG, 2021-22 WCC Defensive Player of the Year)

Key newcomers:

  • Jess Finney, transfer from Washington
  • Claire Gallagher, transfer from Lafayette

San Diego comes into this year having made the postseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) two of the past three seasons, one of which was cancelled due to COVID. However, the majority of the players who helped get the Toreros to those WNITs graduated after a second-round appearance last year. Now, 18th-year head coach Cindy Fisher is going to have to rely on a much younger group to try to reach their 10th postseason appearance since her arrival.

San Diego is known for its defensive acumen and prowess. Last year, it was fourth in the WCC in scoring defense, first in steals and second in turnover margin. Its 410 steals were the most in D-I last year, and they were second amongst all D-I teams in steals per game. The Toreros play a very high-pressure defense that picks up ball-handlers full-court, physical with opponents for all 94 feet. But while their defense is stout, the same cannot be said of their offense: San Diego was bottom-three in the conference in scoring last year, averaging 66.5 points.

The biggest key for the Toreros will be replacing the four starters who graduated. That includes 2021-22 WCC Defensive Player of the Year Jordyn Edwards, and their only two double-digit scorers, Sydney Hunter and Steph Gorman. The nice thing for the team is getting back the services of graduate guard Myah Pace. Pace missed all but one game last year after tearing her Achilles, but has been named an all-conference performer twice in her career. A defense-first guard who is lightning-fast and draws a lot of contact, she averaged 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals per game her junior year. Having her back is huge for San Diego from both an on-court and leadership perspective.

One of the players expected to step up for the Toreros is senior guard Kiera Oakry. Oakry had a slow start to her career, but had her best season last year, averaging nine points and three rebounds while shooting 40% from three. Her continued improvement will help give San Diego a secondary scoring option next to Pace.

But the Toreros will need other players to step up as well. Fisher expects to see big things from senior guards Ayanna Khalfani and Erica Martinsen. San Diego also got two players out of the transfer portal, in Jess Finney from Washington and Claire Gallagher from Lafayette. Both are good shooters, something the Toreros desperately need, as they have consistently ranked in the bottom half of the WCC in threes attempted and made.

Coaches perspective:

“I think the biggest challenge is just going to figure out our identity, who we’re going to be. I think right now, though, it’s very exciting. I think we have some really good new faces adding to what the people that are returning. These guys have played a lot of minutes, [and] even though we lost four starters, we have people who’ve been out there and really put in a lot of good times. So, we’re just going to figure out who we are early. We’ll still be a great defensive team. We’ll still put it out there.”

Cindy Fisher, to The Next

San Francisco

March 5, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Francisco Dons guard Jessica McDowell-White (14) against the Santa Clara Broncos during the first half of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada | WCC)

2021-22 record: 17-16 (10-8 WCC, No. 3 in the conference)

Head coach: Molly Goodenbour, seventh year (86-98 at San Francisco)

Coaches Poll position: Fourth

Key returners:

  • Ioanna Krimili* (19.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.1 APG)
  • Jasmine Gayles (11.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1 APG)
  • Kennedy Dickie (9.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG)

Key losses:

  • Claudia Langarita, transferred to Cal (10.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG)
  • Lucija Kostic, transferred to Lynn University (2.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG)

Key newcomers:

  • Loren Christie, transfer from Buffalo
  • Amy Baum, transfer from Hawaii-Pacific

In back-to-back years, San Francisco finished third in the WCC and made the WNIT. There is a lot of optimism in San Francisco, as the Dons return 84% of their minutes and 80% of their scoring from last year. And it all starts with the conference’s 2021-22 leading scorer, guard Ioanna Krimili.

Krimili is heading into her redshirt junior year as one of the best players in the country that no one has heard of. Last year, she averaged 19.4 points while making 76 threes. She also increased all her non-scoring numbers as well last year, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists per game. She jumped onto the scene her sophomore year, when she knocked down a program-record 97 threes and led the Dons to their first WNIT win in program history. Krimili has improved from being just an outside shooter to more of an all-around scorer, becoming a stronger driver and knocking down more midrange shots. She is the engine that makes this San Francisco team go, as she had 14 20-point games and four 30-point games last year.

One of the issues for the Dons has been finding consistent scoring around Krimili. One of their key other scorers is sixth woman Jasmine Gayles. Gayles, who transferred to USF from Northern Colorado before last year, averaged 12 points last year while coming off the bench in all but two games. She is a speedy guard who can take anyone off the bounce and hit outside shots as well, shooting 35% from deep last season. Another good weapon for the Dons is another player who transferred to USF before last season, senior forward Kennedy Dickie. Dickie, who averaged nine points and seven rebounds last year, is a prototypical stretch four who can mix it up down low but gets most of her points from midrange shots and threes.

Another area of struggle for San Francisco over the past few seasons has been rebounding. It had the worst rebounding margin of any team in the WCC, and was last in offensive boards per game. It also lost two of its top five rebounders from last year, in Lucija Kostic and Claudia Langarita. The Dons will have to lean on some new faces to battle on the boards, and to help with this issue, USF added Buffalo transfer Loren Christie. Christie, a 6’3 forward, played a lot of minutes for the Bulls and averaged 4.4 rebounds, which would have been the second-most on the Dons last year. They also get 6’0 forward Debora Dos Santos back from injury. The JUCO transfer missed all of last season, but head coach Molly Goodenbour expects her to help San Francisco in the rebounding department. If USF can shore up that issue, it will allow them to compete for the conference title this year.

Coaches’ perspective:

“I think four years ago, five years ago, when we brought in that big class of eight freshmen, it’s just been a maturing process for those guys. If you look at our roster now, we’ve got like three fifth-year seniors, we’ve got a fourth-year kid, we’ve got several three-year players. We just have some experience now and I think that it’s such a tremendous difference in everything from the way we start practice in August, September, to the way we’re able to finish out the conference tournament in March. We’ve kind of done a better job now of identifying the kind of players that are able to help not just make our team better, but help make our team older.”

Molly Goodenbour, to The Next

Santa Clara

The Santa Clara Broncos celebrate during a WCC Tournament game against the San Diego Toreros at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 4, 2022. (Photo credit: Kyle Terada)

2021-22 record: 15-14, (8-10 WCC, No. 7 in the conference)

Head coach: Bill Carr, seventh year (75-92 at Santa Clara)

Coaches Poll position: Eighth

Key returners:

  • Ashley Hiraki (7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.5 APG)
  • Lexie Pritchard (7.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.5 APG)
  • Lara Edmanson (6.7 PPG, 4 RPG)

Key losses:

  • Lindsay VanAllen, graduated (19.2 PPG, 3 RPG, 2 APG)
  • Merle Wiehl, graduated (12.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG)
  • Lana Hollingsworth (9.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.1 APG)

Key newcomers:

  • Azyhiana Basallo, transfer from Arizona State
  • Olivia Pollerd, transfer from Washington
  • Jayde Cadee, transfer from UC Irvine

The Broncos have a lot of work cut out for them, as they have to try to replace two All-WCC players in Lindsay VanAllen and Merle Wiehl, and returns just 40% of their minutes played from a year ago. However, if there is a glimmer of hope, it’s that two experienced guards return to the lineup after missing all of last year with injury.

VanAllen finished her Bronco career as the seventh-leading scorer in program history. She was the second-leading scorer in the conference last season and had 11 20-point games. Wiehl, who was a second team all-conference selection, was Santa Clara’s leading rebounder last year. Replicating the production of those two isn’t going to be easy, but head coach Bill Carr is happy to have back senior guard Lexie Pritchard and junior guard Ashlee Maldonado. The two of them, along with VanAllen, started almost every game for the Broncos during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season. Pritchard is coming off a hip injury, while Maldonado is coming off a torn ACL. The two of them combined to average 12 points and 5.5 assists during the 2020-21 campaign. Having them back isn’t only an on-court boost, but also a leadership boost for Santa Clara.

To pair with Pritchard and Maldonado in the backcourt is the Broncos’ lead returning scorer, Ashley Hiraki. Hiraki, who averaged eight points last year, is a great defensive guard who pesters opponents and is a phenomenal driver who can finish through contact. Behind her, it will be a lot of new faces for the Broncos at guard. Carr thinks the Broncos will see improvement from junior guard Anna Johnson and sophomore guard Rafailia Stergaki, and they added two guards out of the transfer portal as well with Azyhiana Basallo from Arizona State and Jayde Cadee from UC Irvine. Basallo is a true point guard with a ton of college basketball experience, having previous played for both the Sun Devils and San Jose State; Cadee is a knockdown shooter who made 146 threes in her three seasons as an Anteater.

In the forward spot, replacing Wiehl will also be no easy task, but Santa Clara brings back two solid frontcourt players in Lara Edmanson and Danja Stafford. The two combined to start every game for the Broncos at the five, while averaging at least six points and four rebounds each. Carr said he saw great things from Edmanson this past spring and summer, and she has really taken on a leadership role with the team. The Broncos also added 6’3 sophomore forward Olivia Pollerd as transfer from Washington.

Santa Clara lost two players who combined to score almost 32 points per game, but if the Broncos can find a way to replace a large percentage of their production, they could be a tough team in the WCC this year.

Coaches’ perspective:

“I think… we got to replace [lost production] with depth in volume. I don’t think I can ask one or two people to take on that right away. That’s a lot of points and experience that we lost. We’re gonna have to do it as a group. I think anytime you have experience it makes it easier. Ashley Maldonado, Lex and [Ashley] Hiraki have all played a ton of minutes in big games. They bring that experience along with Lara Edmanson, Anna Johnson — they’ve played both big minutes for us. Then we have this nice group of young kids coming in. Then some players that haven’t played as much but are developing — Emma Ellinghouse, Rafailia Stergaki. Our depth is really good right now.”

Bill Carr, to The Next

The Next WCC Preseason Rankings:

  1. Gonzaga
  2. Portland
  3. San Francisco
  4. Saint Mary’s
  5. Loyola Marymount
  6. BYU
  7. Pacific
  8. San Diego
  9. Santa Clara
  10. Pepperdine

* 2022 preseason All-WCC selection by the head coaches poll

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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