NCAA Women: All-Australian Preseason Top 10

In a fair and just world, Syracuse senior Tiana Mangakahia would be the runaway Preseason Australian Player of the Year after a pair of scintillating seasons for the Orange that culminated in call-ups to Opals training camps and national award watch list nominations. However, following a breast cancer diagnosis in June, the star point guard will sit out this season as she continues her recovery. Mangakahia has applied for an extra year of eligibility, and will hopefully return to the court for Syracuse in 2020.

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Just two players from last season's All-Australian first and second teams will return to Division I courts in the 2019/20 season, meaning there will be plenty of players moving up in the ranks not only in the preseason, but come the end of the year. With five players graduating, Wagner star Taylah Simmons transferring to NAIA program Southeastern University, and Shannon Dufficy sitting out this season after transferring from Utah State to Missouri, it is certainly a time of upheaval among the elite ranks of Aussies in women's college basketball.

10 | Taylor ORTLEPP | Senior | G | Boston College

One half of Boston College’s potent Aussie senior duo alongside Georgia Pineau, Taylor Ortlepp has been a reliable cog in the Eagles’ machine since the day she set foot on court in Chestnut Hill. Steadily improving her game throughout her three seasons with the program, Ortlepp comes into her senior season as a well-rounded backcourt player who can both score and facilitate with aplomb.

A 26% three-point shooter during her freshman year in 2016/17, Ortlepp has continually built upon that number to become an outside shooter worthy of respect from opponents on her way to averaging 10.3 points per contest. The South Australian shot 33% from deep last season, and if she can continue to improve, it will add an extra dimension to the Eagles’ offence. However, whilst the bulk of Ortlepp’s scoring may come from beyond the arc, it is far from the only string in her offensive bow.

Finishing second on the Eagles’ roster for total assists last season, Ortlepp averaged 3.3 dimes per game, a vast improvement on the previous year in which she averaged 2.2 per contest. Furthermore, with her turnover numbers falling and steals improving, it is little wonder that Ortlepp has developed into a vital member of the Boston College rotation over the last three seasons.

Ortlepp’s presence will remain crucial for Boston College as they look to improve upon some fairly dismal conference results over the last two seasons. With just five wins in ACC play across the last two seasons, the Eagles have once again been tabbed to finish near the bottom of the league. However, with all five starters, including Ortlepp, returning, there is certainly scope for the team from Chestnut Hill to defy those expectations.

9 | Eve BRASLIS | Sophomore | F | Utah Valley

Utah Valley has been a short-term destination for a number of Aussies in recent years, with a number of players leaving before their senior year. However, if Eve Braslis stays in Orem for four years, the sophomore is all but destined to finish as a legend of the program after an outstanding freshman season.

Although the Wolverines finished just shy of playing .500 ball with a 14-16 record, Braslis’ emergence will have given those involved in the Utah Valley program significant hope for the future. The 6’1 forward finished second in scoring and rebounding for the team, tallying 10.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

Of particular note was the consistency of Braslis’ scoring. The forward scored in double figures 18 times in 30 appearances, scoring 8 or 9 points another seven times. Braslis also finished her freshman year with nine consecutive double-figure scoring efforts whilst collecting at least five rebounds in six of those outings. With a new coach, former Utah Valley assistant Dan Nielson, on board in 2019/20, that reliability will stand Braslis in good stead as the entire roster looks to make an impression in advance of the season.

Utah Valley may have been picked to finish fifth in the WAC this season, but do return their three leading scorers and two leading rebounders, with Braslis falling into both categories. The Wolverines also feature a second Australian on the roster, with Sydney Wright, daughter of Adelaide 36ers head coach Joey Wright, coming in as a freshman in 2019/20. Having narrowly missed out on a first-round WAC Tournament win last season to fall below .500, the Wolverines look set for a far improved campaign this season.

8 | Georgia PINEAU | Senior | F | Boston College

Having joined Boston College as part of the same class as Taylor Ortlepp, Georgia Pineau may be a senior this year, but like Ortlepp, has already been a leader for the Eagles for an extended period.

Averaging at least 25 minutes per contest in each of her three seasons, Pineau’s name has become synonymous with the current era of Boston College basketball, and her senior season provides an opportunity to continue to build on last year’s 14-16 record whilst also laying a platform for the future.

Despite not scoring in double figures in the last nine games of the 2018/19 season, Pineau nonetheless compiled a solid season as Boston College improved from 7 wins the season before to 14, falling just shy of the .500 mark in the process.

Whilst her numbers were slightly down on her 2017/18 efforts, Pineau still managed to put up 8.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, whilst also adding in excess of 2 assists and 1 block per contest. The Eagles’ front court stalwart also shot the ball at a better clip than she had in any previous season, hitting shots at 47.8% to slightly improve on her sophomore year mark of 47%. Pineau also currently sits 8th for career blocks at Boston College, and if she can eclipse last season’s number of 32, the senior has a chance to move into second spot behind Las Vegas Aces and former Sydney Uni Flames centre Carolyn Swords, who racked up 178 rejections in her time at Chestnut Hill.

Ranked 13th of 15 in the ACC preseason poll, Boston College may not be expected to spring too many surprises this season, particularly after winning just five conference games across the last two seasons. However, with the Eagles returning every member of the roster that played significant minutes last season, continuity and growth could be the ace up the sleeve for Pineau and her teammates in 2019/20.

7 | Miela GOODCHILD | Sophomore | G | Duke

Opportunities opened up for Miela Goodchild in her freshman season at Duke following a number of injuries, and the former Sapphires and Gems representative took them with both hands. Looking set to come off the bench for the Blue Devils, Goodchild instead started 22 of her 30 appearances, entering numerous record books with her three-point shooting in the process.

Her 73 makes from deep set a Duke freshman record, tied for fourth on the Duke single-season list, and slotted in at eighth in the ACC freshman list as the Queenslander buried shots from beyond the arc at 44.5%, good enough for sixth in the nation. It is therefore little wonder that Goodchild earned a spot on the ACC All-Freshman team, as her emergence helped to make the Duke back court a daunting proposition for opponents throughout 2018/19.

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With Goodchild now an integral part of the rotation, and star guard Kyra Lambert returning from injury alongside preseason All-ACC selection Haley Gorecki, it would be unsurprising to see the Blue Devils outperform their seventh place in the preseason ACC poll. Lambert’s return will enable coach Joanne P. McCallie to rotate her guards more regularly, allowing each player to rest more throughout each contest. Therefore, it may be the case that whilst Goodchild’s minutes could drop slightly purely due to the return of another high-level player, the sophomore will be able to make more impact on a per-minute basis.

6 | Haylee ANDREWS | Sophomore | G | Portland

Haylee Andrews may not have come into her freshman year as one of the more heralded Australian newcomers to college basketball, however the former Townsville Fire guard changed that after an outstanding first year in Portland.

Andrews featured in all 30 of the Pilots’ games last season, starting in 28 of those contests. The Queenslander put up 11.8 points per contest in her freshman year, but also excelled at bringing her teammates into the play to finish with 4.1 assists per game. Throw in 4.6 rebounds and just over a steal per game and it is not difficult to see why Andrews was rewarded with a West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team selection alongside fellow Australian, Saint Mary’s guard Sam Simons. In a team that finished the season with a 13-17 record, Andrews’ emergence could shape the point guard as a player that the Pilots can build around over the next few years.

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Andrews will be joined by a pair of Australian freshmen this season, with Keeley Frawley and Under 19 World Cup All-Star Five selection Alexandra Fowler joining the Pilots. Andrews and Fowler in particular have a history together as North Queensland products. If they can turn that connection into success at the college level, there is almost zero chance that Portland will finish in last place in the conference as predicted by the preseason coaches’ poll.

5 | Alex SHARP | Senior | F | Wake Forest

An interrupted junior season prevented Alex Sharp from showcasing her talents on a regular basis, but when the athletic forward did set foot on court, fans were regularly reminded of her outstanding all-round prowess. Not only did Sharp finish the season second in average scoring and top in average rebounding for Wake Forest, but despite playing in just half of the team’s games, the Victorian still finished third for total rebounds with 140 in 15 contests.

Although her impact was limited by injury last season, Sharp still averaged 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest in 2018/19, and it looks as though Wake Forest will need that same kind of output this season if they are to have any success. With Italian national team player Elisa Penna having now graduated and former star Ariel Stephenson transferring to George Washington after sitting out last season due to injury, there is plenty of slack to be taken up by the Demon Deacons’ leaders.

If there is one positive that can be taken from the injury crisis that hit Wake Forest last season, it is that the roster now possesses a vast range of players with starting experience. Regardless, Sharp will be tasked with leading from the front as her athleticism and tenacity continues to make the senior a daunting prospect in a range of positions. Whether it be grabbing rebounds that she apparently has no right to collect, or finishing through contact that would send your average player spiraling out of control, Sharp is one player that can be relied on to fight through just about anything opponents throw at her at both ends.

In a team tipped among the league’s coaches to finish bottom of the ACC this season, Sharp’s return could yet prove the catalyst for Wake Forest to spring a few surprises this season. Winning just one conference game last season will provide additional fuel to the fire, and regardless, the Demon Deacons are by no means a bad team. If they can finally find some roster consistency after last season’s injury debacle, a little continuity might just help them garner some unexpected wins throughout the season.

4 | Tia HAY | Senior | G | Santa Clara

Having starred at junior college level for two years, Tia Hay didn’t miss a beat in making the step up to Division I, quickly emerging as one of the stars of the West Coast Conference in her first season at Santa Clara. Tallying 45 points across her first two games, Hay hit the ground running and never looked back in a season that culminated in an All-West Coast Conference Second Team selection.

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Tallying 15.5 points and 4.2 assists per game, Hay easily led the Broncos in both categories last season as the Broncos finished 14-17 whilst reaching the second round of the West Coast Conference tournament. Of particular note was Hay’s ability to beat defenders and find her way to the cup as the former JUCO star shot 48.3% from two-point range.

Hay is in the position of leading a team that appears to be on the way up after being tabbed to finish fifth in 2019/20 after finishing seventh last season. With all five starters returning, it would not be unexpected to see Hay’s assist numbers grow this season given the connection that has developed among the starting five across the last 12 months.

Preseason polling indicates that consensus is that there is a gap between the top four teams in the WCC and the chasing pack, but if Hay can pick up where she left off last season, that gap will quickly narrow. Having already received All-WCC Preseason Team selection, Hay already sits among the top players in the conference, and an All-Conference First Team selection come the end of the year is certainly a realistic target.

3 | Jade JOHNSON | Senior | G | St. Francis Brooklyn

It’s been a long time since there was just one Australian on the St. Francis’ roster, but 2019/20 will see Jade Johnson play her final season for the Terriers without running mate Amy O’Neill following the latter’s graduation after the 2018/19 campaign.

An All-Northeast Conference Second Team selection in 2018/19, Johnson has steadily improved her scoring over her three seasons to this point. A freshman season interrupted by injury saw the South Australian average 7 points per game, but once those issues had subsided, Johnson doubled that scoring average in 2017/18 before emerging as one of the nation’s elite scorers last season. Shooting 42% from three-point range helped enable Johnson to tally 19.9 points per game, helping St. Francis to a third seed in the Northeast Conference tournament before falling in an upset to Mount St. Mary’s in the first round.

Three-point shooting isn’t the only arrow in Johnson’s quiver. The South Australian grabbed 4.4 rebounds per contest and also shot 91.7% at the line in 2018/19, good enough for sixth in the nation as well as being the only Australian to shoot 90% or better from the line.

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The only senior on the Terriers’ roster this season, Johnson finds herself in a situation that may force her to shoulder a lot more of the load than in previous years as St. Francis returns just three players from last season’s roster. Whilst there is no doubting the Preseason All-NEC selection’s ability, her opportunities to continue putting up the same kind of numbers as in previous seasons may rest as much on the Terriers’ ability to replace O’Neill at the point as it is about Johnson herself.

2 | Chloe BIBBY | Junior | F | Mississippi State

Throughout the first half of last season, Chloe Bibby had established a case to be considered one of the most improved players in women’s college basketball. A scintillating improvement in Bibby’s shooting was just the most noticeable change between freshman and sophomore years as the 6’1 forward increased her three-point percentage from 31% to 45%. With that improvement came increased playing time and an uptick in every major statistical category. However, that would all change one fateful night in January as Bibby tore her ACL late in a game against rivals South Carolina, ending her season on the spot. Despite that injury, Bibby proved in those 17 games that she will be integral to any success that Mississippi State have in the next two seasons.

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Cleared for full contact in recent weeks, Bibby is slowly but surely working her way back into the fold for a Bulldogs team tipped to finish third in the SEC. That ranking that will no doubt add fuel to their fire, as Mississippi State had been ranked in the top two of the preseason SEC poll in each of the last three seasons.

In a roster with just one graduate student but no seniors, Bibby and her fellow juniors are now among the most experienced players on the roster, however Bibby has already proven herself able to stand up when required. Having shot 45% from deep whilst posting 11.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last season prior to her injury, if the Victorian can return to something even approaching that form, the Bulldogs faithful will continue to have plenty to cheer about as they look to reach a third Final Four in four years.

1 | Courtney WOODS | Senior | F | Northern Illinois

By rights, Courtney Woods should be knocking down threes for fun at a professional level the same way she did at the college level for three seasons. However, an ACL injury seven games into the 2019/20 saw the Northern Illinois stalwart redshirt and return for one final swansong.

An All-MAC First Team selection in 2017/18, Woods has been a scoring machine for the Huskies, averaging in excess of 20 points per game across her last two campaigns and dropping 30 or more points seven times. However the senior is hardly just a three-point shooting machine. Woods is only too happy to oblige any defender closing out too aggressively, taking advantage by getting to the basket with ease, making the Huskies legend a dangerous proposition for any opponent. Toss in aggressiveness to go with ability both on the glass and in defence, and Woods possesses a well-rounded skillset that has earned the senior a second consecutive Cheryl Miller Award watch list as one of the top 20 small forwards in college basketball.

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One of two redshirt seniors on the roster, Woods will stand tall as one of the team’s undoubted leaders, although given her past performances, that has long been the case. Northern Illinois have put together decent campaigns over the last two seasons, but nothing spectacular, with Woods still yet to taste the experience of play in the NCAA Tournament. However, with Woods a chance to go off for 30 on any one night, and a solid supporting cast, anything is possible for Northern Illinois.

Honourable Mentions

In a cohort of 104 Australian women in college, the list of players on the cusp of breaking into the top 10 was stacked with high-level talent. Perhaps the closest to sneaking in was Saint Mary’s sophomore Sam Simons, who received a preseason All-West Coast Conference selection alongside Santa Clara point guard Tia Hay. Meanwhile, Georgia Dale was electric at times for Cal Baptist last season in the program’s first Division I campaign. Seattle guard Courtney Murphy showed in an injury-interrupted season just what she can produce, tying the program record for made threes in game with six on debut after 12 weeks out. Murphy finished the season shooting at a clip that would have ranked fourth in the nation had the freshman played enough games to qualify for the leaderboard.

Meanwhile, Courtney Woods and Chloe Bibby may be coming back from ACL injuries this season, but they are far from the only ones on the comeback trail. Tennessee graduate Louise Brown was also forced out last season due to the same injury suffered by Woods and Bibby, but has been granted an additional season at one of women’s basketball’s most storied programs. UCLA junior Chantel Horvat will also be making her return from a significantly interrupted 2018/19 season, whilst fellow Pac-12 player Sara Anastasieska is hoping to play her first game since January 2018 after a succession of injuries put the brakes on her college career. All three have the class to turn it on and put in big seasons, and there will be no shortage of motivation to do so as they look to make up for lost time.

Finally, it would be remiss to count out the incoming freshmen from making an impact. It has been a common theme in recent years to see some less-heralded names find their way to the upper echelon of Australians in college; the performances of Eve Braslis and Haylee Andrews last season stand as testament to that. Whilst there are plenty of elite freshman coming in, it would come as no surprise to see a player who has rarely made headlines at the junior level come out and dominate in their first season in college.