October 27, 2023 

2023-24 WCC preview

A look at what to expect from all nine schools in the conference

After another strong season from one of the best mid-major conferences in the country, the West Coast Conference (WCC) looks to continue its streak of sending multiple teams to the NCAA tournament. The league has now done just that in eight of the past 11 seasons. However, this year the league has a new look with just nine teams after the departure of BYU.

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The Next’s WCC Preseason Rankings:

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

Gonzaga is once again the favorite and has high expectations with a large percentage of talent returning. We’ll see if anyone can challenge them as we preview each team in alphabetical order. [Note: throughout this preview, *=2023 Preseason All-WCC selection by the head coaches]

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Kaylynne Truong drives against WCC foe Saint Mary’s. Photo Credit: Holly Ellis, Gonzaga Athletics

2022-23 record: 28-5 (17-1 WCC, 1st)

Head coach: Lisa Fortier, 10th year (233-59 at Gonzaga)

Coaches Poll position: 1st

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key newcomers:

Gonzaga’s had some very good teams during their program’s history and this 2023-24 squad is right up there with the best. Returning for a team that won 28 games a year ago are basically five starting caliber players. You add to that a Power Five transfer and the highest rated recruit in program history returning from injury and you’ve got an incredibly potent team.

For the Bulldogs, it starts with their incredibly talented graduate guard twin tandem of Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong in the backcourt. The two are now in their fifth season at Gonzaga and have already shown they can be stars. Kayleigh missed a lot of last season due to an injury but was a first team all-conference performer in 2021. Her sister Kaylynne exploded in her absence last year, being named the WCC Player of the Year after averaging 16 points and five assists a game. Both sisters can score at all three levels and have incredible passing ability. Kaylynne led the WCC in assists, was fifth in scoring and second in three-point percentage last season. The Truong sisters both have the capability to score 20 points on any given night and are the leaders for this team.

Not to be outdone by the Truong twins is senior forward Yvonne Ejim. Ejim went from WCC Sixth Player of the Year in 2022 to a first team All-WCC performer and Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year finalist in 2023. She was fourth in the league in scoring a year ago averaging almost 17 points and was second in the league in rebounding, grabbing 8.4 rebounds per game. She spent the summer playing with the Canadian national team in the Americup where she averaged eight points and four rebounds coming off the bench. Ejim runs the floor very hard, scoring a ton in transition and is a great finisher in traffic. She also crashes the glass with ferocity, as she was tied for third in the WCC with eight double-doubles last season.

The final preseason All-WCC performer for this Zags team is Brynna Maxwell. The former Ute shined brightly in her first season in Spokane, averaging 13.5 points per game while shooting 49.4% from behind the arc on 5.5 triples attempted per game. Maxwell is a shooter, no if ands or buts about it and can knock down multiple threes in a hurry. She knocked down multiple threes in all but seven games last year. Her shooting ability opens up so many more things for Gonzaga and adds to what is an already incredible team.

To add on to the four preseason all-conference players is a group of excellent others. Starting every game at center last year is Eliza Hollingsworth who saw her minutes and scoring average more than double. She is a great post player who can also stretch to the perimeter and knock down outside shots. Maud Huijbens is another post who battled injury last year but can also score inside and battle for rebounds. Calli Stokes is another guard who attacks the basket hard and has great size on the perimeter.

The Zags return 85% of their minutes from a year ago, only really losing one key contributor from last year’s WCC regular season championship team. There aren’t a lot of new faces but Naya Ojukwu, another transfer from Utah, brings them more athleticism and talent in the front court. They also get 6’2 guard Bree Salenbien back from an injury who was a top 45 recruit according to ESPNW in the class of 2021. Getting her back only makes them scarier. Lisa Fortier has a group that has the potential to make a deep run and with so much returning, the expectations are very high.

Coach’s perspective: “We have the liberty now with all these returners of trying new things and different things earlier,” said Lisa Fortier. “Right now, I’m not overly worried about the offense. Hopefully that doesn’t bite me in the butt later, but we’ve proven to be a very good offensive team and so we’re working on defense, we’re trying to get better at rebounding…My goal for them, I want us to keep getting better. We’ve said push yourself to be uncomfortable and try and push yourself to a new level. And so, it’s that but I loved coaching that team that kept getting better all the way to the end. Last year’s team, they survived, they were adaptable, and they were resilient. So, every team takes on a new thing, but that was a really fun thing to coach.”


Nicole Rodriguez surveys the floor against Portland at Gersten Pavilion. Photo Credit: LMU Athletics

2022-23 record: 7-23 (4-14 WCC, 10th in the league)

Head coach: Aarika Hughes, 3rd year (18-42 at LMU)

Coaches Poll position: 9th

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key newcomers:

Loyola Marymount was a team coming into last year with a lot of returning talent and a second-year head coach who was ready to grow from her first year ever in charge. However, things didn’t go as they’d hoped and LMU had another down season. Now in head coach Aarika Hughes’ third season, the Lions are once again not picked very high, but she has a lot more experience under her belt from both a coaching standpoint and player standpoint.

The reason LMU struggled a lot last year, especially in conference play, was because they lost their starting point guard and senior leader, Ariel Johnson to an injury for a large chunk of the season. The group last year also didn’t gel as well as Coach Hughes had hoped. On top of losing Johnson, LMU also lost Cassandra Gordon and Khari Clark. The three of them were among the top five scorers for this team last year so there are some returning and new players expected to step up.

For the returners this year, it starts with Alexis Mark. She was the team’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder a year ago. A former transfer from Boise State, Mark is an athletic forward who runs the floor hard and crashes the glass with ferocity. She will be expected to handle a lot more of the offensive load this year and lead the frontcourt group. Another leader for the Lions will be guard Nicole Rodriguez. Rodriguez has started 76 games as a Lion in her three years in Los Angeles. She has increased her scoring every year and last year led the team in three-point shooting, knocking down 39% of her triples. Another returner who should be improved is Amaya Oliver. Oliver was a former USC transfer who is an incredible athlete at the forward position. She crashes the glass extremely hard and has shown flashes of being able to score around the rim.

Coach Hughes wanted to bring some experience to her team, so she looked for it out of the transfer portal. A big name who was on the LMU roster last year but couldn’t play due to transferring late is former Nevada guard Da’ja Hamilton. As a member of the Wolfpack, Hamilton averaged 14 points, three rebounds and two assists in 2021-22. She is an athletic guard who is creative and has shown a capability to score at all three levels. Another player from the portal Hughes is really excited about is Sofia Inoussa, a transfer from New Mexico State. The senior guard averaged seven points and 3.5 rebounds last year as an Aggie. Hughes loves her selflessness and how consistent she has been so far.

LMU has a lot of challenges ahead of them with a lot of new faces and trying to climb up the WCC pecking order after back-to-back seasons at the bottom. However, despite all the new faces, Coach Hughes feels this is different from her first year because she knows what to expect and her team knows what LMU basketball should look like. She sees that her team is excited to show people who they are and not let last year define them going into this season.

Coach’s perspective: “I think that there is a fresh new interest in women’s basketball when it comes to just the players,” Aarika Hughes told The Next. “I think it was great to have Khari and Cassie and Ari but again having that fresh feeling that this is new I think also charges our previous returners…super excited knowing that we know the lay of the land, we know what LMU Basketball identity is, now getting kids that fit that is great.”


March 4, 2023; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Pacific Tigers guard Anaya James (3) during the first half of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. Photo Credit: Kyle Terada

2022-23 record: 15-17 (8-10 WCC, 6th in the league)

Head coach: Bradley Davis, 9th year (106-133 at Pacific)

Coaches Poll position: T-3rd

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

  • Sam Ashby, graduated (10.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.2 APG)

Key newcomers:

Pacific finished last season strong, winning eight of their final 11 games and pulling an upset to make it to the conference semifinals as the six seed. They fell just one basket shy in that WCC tournament semifinals but there is a lot of optimism in Stockton. The Tigers return the second highest percentage of minutes from a year ago in the WCC, so expectations are high for Bradley Davis and his group. However, they are ready to attack those expectations.

For Pacific, it starts with the trio of Liz Smith, Anaya James and Elizabeth Elliot. Smith, a senior guard, was the team’s leading scorer last year. Averaging 14 points, Smith has improved every year she’s been a Tiger. She averaged just two points her freshman year and 10 her sophomore year. Last year, en route to being named All-WCC first team, Smith became a more efficient scorer which is a big reason why she made such an improvement. She is a lightning-fast guard who gets to the basket with ease but can also score at all three levels.

James, a junior guard, is the definition of a do it all player, as she collected her second career triple-double last season as only a sophomore. James likes to do most of her damage around the rim and in the mid-range but can stretch out to the perimeter. She also is a phenomenal passer, as she was fourth in the WCC in assists per game and already in the Pacific record books with 12 assists in one game, the 10th most in school history. She had a strong start to the season but struggled down the stretch due a few injuries she suffered during the season. If she can stay healthy and be more consistent, she will be help propel this Tigers team forward.

The final player in the Pacific star trio is Elizabeth Elliott. Elliott like James was a star as a freshman two years ago and also like James had a slower sophomore season. She tried to focus on other things last year like defense and leadership when her scoring wasn’t at level it had been. She still finished the season top-10 in the WCC in rebounding and had three games last year with double digit rebounds. Elliott is a force inside who can score around the rim and has improved her mid-range game as well. If she, like James, can find her freshman form, Pacific will be even more dangerous.

On top of Tigers top trio, they have a lot of depth. Cecilia Holmberg, a former St. John’s transfer, is a great pick and pop forward who shoots the ball very well and gives the Tigers a different look on offense. Kadie Deaton, another former transfer, is a speedy guard who can get to the basket in a flash and attacks aggressively. They also added Lauren Glazier, a Washington State transfer who gives them more depth at the forward position and can run the floor well despite her 6’4 frame. The experience of this Pacific team that has grown through two tough years should help them turn some of those close losses into wins and help them get back to the postseason.

Coach’s perspective: “You carry it over and just how you do everything day to day,” Bradley Davis told The Next. “We talk about, our staff talks about it, how you do everything is how you do anything kind of thing. And just carrying over how we were playing, how we were approaching those games with how we’re going to approach practice, how we’re going to approach travel. We want to make sure that we’re staying locked in with everything that we’re doing…I know the three of us sitting here and then the rest of us returning, being on the outside looking in at the end of last year when we know how well we were finishing that year was frustrating. That’s more motivating to me, it’s more motivating than getting picked third or not getting picked third.”

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Jane Nwaba drives against UC Riverside for the Pepperdine Waves. Photo Credit: Morgan Davenport

2022-23 record: 11-19 (5-13 WCC, 9th in the league)

Head coach: Kelsey Keizer, 1st year (Interim head coach)

Coaches Poll position: 8th

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key newcomers:

Lots of teams have turbulent off-seasons but there’s an argument to be made that Pepperdine’s take the cake. They parted ways with their previous head coach right before the WCC tournament last year. Then, they hire former Colorado assistant coach Tim Hays on April 4. He hires his staff and completely changes the roster, adding seven transfers. Then before he can even coach a game, he resigns on August 14 for personal reasons.

In response to Hays’ resignation, Pepperdine elevated associate head coach Kelsey Keizer to their interim head coach for the season. Keizer comes to Malibu after a nine-year stint as the head coach at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri and was a four-year player at Drake University.

Roster wise, the Waves return less than 25% of their minutes from last year. In the short time that Hays was there, he completely overhauled the roster. Six players transferred out and eight came in, six from D-I schools, one from an NAIA school and one JUCO transfer. Of their D-I transfers, four came from Power Five schools but none played more than 320 minutes at their previous school last year.

With all the new faces, Pepperdine only returns four players from last year. One of the main returners is Jane Nwaba. Nwaba is an incredibly athletic wing player who can get to the basket at any moment and crashes the glass hard. She improved her outside shooting last year which helped to balance her game. Nwaba said she is trying to find the balance between leading and learning with all her new teammates. She will be key for this Pepperdine group to find success. The other key returner for the Waves is Helena Friend. Friend is a big guard who can score at all three levels. She will need to take a step forward to help this fresh-faced Wave team compete.

With all the change happening in Malibu, it is going to take a lot for them to try to crack the top half of the WCC. We’ll see how quickly all the new faces take to a second head coach in six months. They have talent but how quickly they gel will probably determine if Pepperdine can outperform their preseason expectations.

Coach’s perspective: “I think it’s been a process and it’s gonna continue to be,” Kelsey Keizer told The Next. “Every season is a journey and I think with this team, and with so many new faces, we’re gonna really have to stay learners and stay ready to just continue to trust the process of the whole season. We have a lot of maturity on our squad, but maturity looks in different ways. Some who’ve been on really experienced teams, some who have experience in the WCC, some who know California, some who have just been quality players at their previous institution. So we’re trying to bring all of that together and everyone’s different strengths and different experiences to help be their best.”


March 7, 2023; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Portland Pilots guard McKelle Meek (1) shoots the basketball against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. Photo Credit: Kyle Terada

2022-23 record: 23-9 (15-3 WCC, 2nd in the league)

Head coach: Michael Meek, 5th year (79-44 at Portland)

Coaches Poll position: 2nd

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key newcomers:

Coming off their second WCC championship in four seasons, head coach Michael Meek probably has his most difficult coaching job of his tenure at Portland. Gone is the all-time leading scorer in program history in Alex Fowler and the second leading passer in program history in Haylee Andrews. The two Aussies had been the key to Meek getting the Pilots back on the map after eight straight below .500 seasons. With them gone, a lot of new faces will have to step up for Portland but the success the program’s had should help prepare their players for the moment.

Despite the loss of Fowler and Andrews, Portland returns two players who were All-WCC performers a year ago. It starts with Maisie Burnham, a former Eastern Washington transfer, who averaged 11 points and four rebounds a season ago. Burnham is a tall guard who has worked on her game to make her a three-level scorer. She shot almost 40% from three last year and is great at using her strength to get to the basket. She also uses her length very well in Portland’s allotment of presses.

Another big guard who will be key this year for the Pilots is Emme Shearer. Shearer, like Burnham, has steadily improved her game over the three years she has been a Pilot. Last year she had her best offensive season, averaging 10 points a game while also shooting almost 40% from three. She is one of the better perimeter defenders in the WCC, ranking top 10 in the league in total steals a season ago. Her play and energy fits very well into Portland’s pressing and offensive style.

Two returners who will need to step up for the Pilots this year are McKelle Meek and Lucy Cochrane. Meek, the daughter of head coach Michael Meek, will become the team’s full time point guard with the graduation of Andrews. Meek had stepped into this role previously at times with Andrews missing large chunks of the last two seasons with injuries, and succeed averaging three assists a game last year. Cochrane, a former Oregon transfer, is a 6’6 center who has started a lot of games in her Portland career. She has never been much of a scorer but is known for her defensive acumen. Despite only playing 20 games last season, Cochrane racked up 50 blocks, which would have been best in the WCC, but she didn’t play in enough games to qualify.

Among the newcomers for Portland are two transfers who should have a big impact right away. The first is an intraconference transfer in Kennedy Dickie who comes to Portland from San Francisco. Last year at USF, Dickie was a second team All-WCC performer, averaging 10 points and eight rebounds a game. She was fourth in the league in rebounding despite being only 6’0. Dickie is the definition of a stretch four who can score around the basket and pop out and knock down a three. The other key addition is Kianna Hamilton who is another big guard who comes to Portland from Long Beach State. Hamilton, who was an All-Big West performer last year at the Beach, can also score at all three levels and has over 3,000 minutes of basketball played under her belt. She is also a hard-nosed defender as she led the Big West in steals a season ago.

Portland has had a quick rise to the top of the WCC under Michael Meek. However, Alex Fowler and Haylee Andrews had a lot to do with that. Now, in the Pilots’ first year without them, they will need the others who helped support them to become stars. The standards that have been built will continue to keep the Pilots towards the top, but whether they can challenge for another WCC championship remains to be seen.

Coach’s perspective: “I think that’s kind of the fun part of every team is even when you only lose one or two. In our case, we graduated more than that,” Michael Meek told The Next. “I feel like it’s just a whole new journey and a whole new chapter, but I really like what I’ve seen so far. I just feel like we have great depth. A lot was relied on with Alex and Haley and I think having a chance to go through 13, 14 games without Haley, I think the team really came together in a great way and now you know, we’re gonna probably a little different in some ways, but I feel like we can be better in other ways and just a different team.”

Saint Mary’s

Ali Bamberger shoots a floater in Saint Mary’s home game against Rice. Photo Credit: Tod Fierner

2022-23 record: 13-18 (6-12 WCC, 7th in the league)

Head coach: Jeff Cammon, 1st year

Coaches Poll position: 6th

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key newcomers:

Saint Mary’s is the other school in the WCC with a new head coach this season, however their hiring went a little smoother than Pepperdine’s. In late December last year, 17-year head coach Paul Thomas was suspended amid an investigation by the school, and a month later Saint Mary’s parted ways with him. On March 29, Saint Mary’s tapped Long Beach State head coach Jeff Cammon to become the next head coach of the Gaels.

Cammon comes to Moraga after being named the Big West coach of the year last season after leading LBSU to their first 20-win season in the last six seasons. Cammon spent six years in Long Beach as the head coach after previously being an assistant at Colorado, Cal and a previous stint at Long Beach. Cammon was a three-year starter at point guard at Alcorn State from 2000 to 2003. He also brings with him a vastly different style than what Saint Mary’s played under Thomas. He wants to press and play a very up-tempo games whereas under Thomas, Saint Mary’s played a very finesse and read and react style of basketball.

Cammon comes to Moraga having to replace one of the greatest players in Saint Mary’s history in Taycee Wedin. Wedin was the all-time leader in three-point shooting in her five seasons in Moraga. However, one advantage for Cammon is he returns All-WCC first team performer Ali Bamberger. Bamberger, a former Washington transfer, was third in rebounding and double-doubles last season in the WCC. She is a handful down on the block but also can stretch out to the perimeter and knock down a three. In Cammon’s new system, they will look to put Bamberger more on the perimeter and move her around a lot more.

At the guard position, the Gaels will be relying on two players from down under in Tayla Dalton and Hannah Rapp. Dalton was the Gaels third leading scorer but saw her numbers decline from her sophomore season to her junior season. She is a scoring guard who can score at every level but will need to help replace some of the scoring load lost with the departure of Wedin. Rapp saw a huge increase in minutes a year ago and made the most of it, doubling her scoring, rebounding and assists last year compared to her sophomore year. Rapp is a guard who likes to get to the basket and score in the mid-range, but Cammon said she has worked on her three-point game to be more of a threat on offense.

The team also expects to see a big growth from Addison Wedin, the sister of Taycee Wedin, this season. Cammon said she has grown a lot since he took over and she has found her identity on the basketball court. They will also need people like Makena Mastora and Leia Hanafin, who had some good moments last year, to contribute more this year. With a new head coach, there will be some growing pains for Saint Mary’s. However, the players seem excited about Coach Cammon and he has some good talent already on the roster to compete this season in the WCC.

Coach’s perspective: “I think it’s a mentality, obviously there’s scheme, right?” Jeff Cammon told The Next. “It does take time to pick up on certain habits, so the time aspect is probably the hardest part, but these young ladies are so coachable, and they want to learn and they want to buy into whatever it is that we asked of them and it’s mentality, you don’t have to have the certain type of personnel to play our style. Now, will we adjust it to their strengths? Yes, but the foundation of it and the philosophy as far as hey, we’re gritty, we’re gonna dictate, we’re gonna set the tone every night so it could be in our zone, it could be in our man, but we’re gonna continue to play that style.”

San Diego

Kasey Neubert prepares to shoot for the San Diego Torreros at Jenny Craig Pavilion. Photo Credit: University of San Diego Athletics.

2022-23 record: 19-14 (11-7 WCC, 3rd in the league)

Head coach: Cindy Fisher, 19th year (330-224 at San Diego)

Coaches Poll position: 5th

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key newcomers:

The Torreros have been a team that has constantly reloaded under head coach Cindy Fisher. In her 18 years, they’ve only been under .500 in three seasons. Going into last year, the Torreros looked like they would take a step back losing a lot of talent but once again they reloaded and finished third in the WCC. This year, the Torreros once again lose a lot — four starters to be exact — and their ability to consistently reload will be tested.

The main reason San Diego has been consistently good under Cindy Fisher is their style of play. They aren’t the prettiest offensive team, but they get under their opponent’s skin defensively, they press a lot and they crash the offensive glass hard. They were third in the league in opponent scoring, first in turnover margin and first in offensive rebounds per game. That style helps to make the transition from one set of players to the next easier because they don’t need to have the most talented offensive players.

The one returning started from a year ago to this San Diego team is Kasey Neubert. Neubert is a force inside who makes all her money scoring right around the basket. She was the number five rebounder in the WCC and showed her potential as she put up 18 points and 19 rebounds in San Diego’s postseason WNIT win over Long Beach State. She will be very important from a leadership and basketball standpoint to help San Diego try to continue its streak of success in the WCC.

The Torreros graduated all three of their starting guards from a season. The three combined to average almost 30 points a game. Without them, the Torreros will rely heavily on two guards in their junior class to take steps forward. The first is Jess Finney, a former Washington Husky. Finney saw limited minutes last year in her first season at USD. Despite that, she showed she that she is first and foremost a shooter, knocking down the second most triples on the team despite playing only 300 minutes. San Diego doesn’t have a lot of shooters so Finney will need to help stretch opponent’s defense. The other guard who needs to step forward is Kylie Horstmeyer. Horstmeyer is a scrappy wing player who plays solid defense and finds ways to get to the rim. She will need to lead this backcourt and help create opportunities with her defense.

The Torreros have two transfers who should both make an immediate impact. The first is Maddie Vejsicky, who transferred from Virginia Tech. Coach Fisher says she is a huge offensive threat who can really shoot the ball. San Diego never has a ton of three-point shooting so getting a quality shooter is incredibly important for the team. The other transfer is Dylan Horton, a grad transfer from Florida AM. Horton averaged almost 16 points a game last year for the Rattlers. She is a very skilled guard who can play the point as well as the two guard and is already becoming a great leader for the Torreros. She can also knock down a three which is important to help USD spread the floor.

The Torreros once again have to reload but they have shown a capability to do so consistently. Whether they can continue their run of above .500 seasons will once again come down to how much can they score and continue to play high pressure defense. They have shown they can do it before, but this will be another test for Cindy Fisher in her 19th season at the helm.

Coach’s perspective: “I think the fun part about this group is all of the people that are now stepping on the floor for us, were all waiting for their opportunity,” Cindy Fisher told The Next. “They were all playing behind people who had been here five and six years. And so now it’s their chance to step out there and even though their minutes may not have been as much as a Myah or a Kiera or a Ayanna, I think they’re more than ready and obviously excited about showing what they can do. I’m not nervous about it at all, I’m excited.”

San Francisco

1/14/23: USF WBB vs SMC at War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center in San Francisco, CA. Photo Credit: Chris M. Leung for USF Dons Athletics

2022-23 record: 19-13 (9-9 WCC, 4th in the league)

Head coach: Molly Goodenbour, 8th year (105-111 at USF)

Coaches Poll position: 7th

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key newcomers:

Schools every year have to reload their rosters due to graduation and the explosion of the transfer portal. In fact, more than half of the WCC schools have less than half of their minutes played from a season ago returning this season. However, USF set the bar, with the lowest percentage of returning minutes in the league at just 23%. After three straight trips to the WNIT, Molly Goodenbour has her work cut out for her with not a single starter returning from a year ago.

The Dons lost all five starters including four-time All-WCC performer and former conference leading scorer Ioanna Krimili. Krimili grad transferred to Cal after another phenomenal season finishing third in scoring in the WCC and leading the Dons to a fourth-place finish in league play. Also gone from the backcourt is starting point guard Jessica McDowell-White who was fifth in the league in total assists.

To replace these two, the Dons will have to rely heavily on WCC Sixth player of the year, Jasmine Gayles. She led the conference in scoring off the bench, averaging 10.1 point per game. She also was ninth in the league in free throws made, despite not starting a single game last year. Gayles in an electric quick guard who easily gets to the rim whenever she wants. She also can knock down the outside shot to be a three-level scorer. Gayles will most likely step into a starting role and try to help relieve some of the pressure with the loss of Krimili.

The Dons also lost their starting frontcourt, including all conference player Kennedy Dickie, who transferred to Portland. However, there is more optimism for that part of the court with the return of Debora dos Santos. She had a great start to last season until she injured her hand at the beginning of conference play and missed two months of games before returning for the final three games. When she did play, she was a force inside, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds. She had three games scoring at least 20 and four double-doubles in her 18 games played. If she can stay healthy, she will help the Dons pick up the loss of scoring and give them some punch on the interior.

The Dons only have six returners, with only Gayles and dos Santos contributing consistently last year. They will need some of their seven new faces to contribute quickly. Two who Coach Goodenbour expects big things from are transfers Freja Werth and Mia Vuksic. Werth is a transfer from Albany who is a big guard. She can play the guard or the post and has a very versatile skill set. Vuksic is a transfer from Kansas who can shoot the heck out of the basketball. She tied the school record at Kansas with eight made three pointers in a game her freshman year. The Dons will need help spacing the floor with the loss of Krimili and Vuksic should help with that.

The Dons have a lot of players to replace but Coach Goodenbour talked about how the team feels like they have a fresh start with the new group of players. They believe with this group it will be a bit more team oriented and finding a different way to win games than they did with the group they just had graduate. We’ll see if all the new faces can find quick success and help the Dons get to their fourth straight postseason appearance or if there will be some regression.

Coach’s perspective: “I think some kids are coming in with some things to prove. I think the returning players, especially like Deb and Jas, who played a lot of minutes for us are looking forward to having a fresh start with a new group of people,” Molly Goodenbour told The Next. “Everything evolves, everything has kind of a shelf life. And I think that as a program and as a team, we were ready to take another step in a direction of maybe being a little bit more team oriented, maybe moving the ball a little bit more and sharing the ball a little bit more and finding different ways to score or different ways to be effective other than what we’ve had for the last couple of years.”

Santa Clara

Tess Heal drives for the Santa Clara Broncos against Cal State Fullerton. Photo Credit: Don Jedlovec/Santa Clara Athletics.

2022-23 record: 15-17 (6-12, 8th in the league)

Head coach: Bill Carr, 8th year (90-109 at Santa Clara)

Coaches Poll position: T-3rd

Key returners (Last year’s stats):

Key losses (Last year’s stats):

Key Newcomers:

The Broncos were the only WCC team during the regular season last year to beat Gonzaga and there is a lot of hope they can compete at the top of the conference this season. They return WCC freshman of the year Tess Heal who burst onto the scene a season ago. However, Santa Clara has more than just Heal, with a lot of returning talent and young players who played big minutes last year who are ready to step up this season.

Heal set the WCC on fire in her first season, averaging almost 18 points a game while also grabbing four rebounds and dishing out four assists a game. She was the second leading scorer in the WCC, and she showed she had a strong ability to score at the rim and in the midrange. She also made the most free throws of any player in the league and was second in the league in free throw percentage. Her growth as an outside shooter will be very important to help elevate her game and the Broncos this season.

The Broncos also returned both their starters in the frontcourt with Lara Edmanson and Olivia Pollerd. Edmanson is a more traditional post who scores a ton around the rim and is great in the pick and roll game, and led Santa Clara in rebounding. Pollerd is more of a pick and pop forward who is an excellent three-point shooter. Pollerd, a former Washington Husky, led the Broncos in threes made a season ago, shooting almost 35% from beyond the arc. She also was a force inside, averaging more than a block a game. Both average double figures and play well off each other with their different skillsets.

Santa Clara has a lot of depth on this roster which will help them battle through different situations in WCC play. Ashley Hiraki is a guard who has started a lot of games who is incredibly strong and can get to the basket with ease. Marya Hudgins was another strong freshman who showed she can do a little bit of everything and can be very scrappy on both sides of the ball. The Broncos also added two transfers who will help their depth. They added another scrappy wing in former Portland Pilot Keeley Frawley who can do a lot of different things on the floor. Bucknell transfer Emma Shaffer also comes to Santa Clara after averaging almost a double-double for the Bison and will help fill a hole in the middle for the Broncos.

After three straight seasons around .500, the Broncos are looking to see if all the experience their young players had a year ago can turn into success for this team. They have a lot of talent and depth that is headlined by Tess Heal. Santa Clara went through a few long losing streaks a season ago and this year, their goal is to not lose multiple games in a row again. If they can get consistent play and use their depth, this Bronco team has a high ceiling.

Coach’s perspective: “It’s gonna help us. You can’t rush experience; you have to go through it. So now we’ll reap the benefits of it,” Bill Carr told The Next. “We’re experienced, we’re older. There are more voices now. There are more voices in the right way. And that’s a good thing…I think we’re up to a point building this program that we have to go out — and I always like to say grow the fishbowl, right? and I think this group is more than ready for it.”

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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