The 2016/17 NCAA Division I season features many highly talented returning Australians this season, with seven of last season's top 10 Australians back again for this season. Combined with a stacked freshman class, there are now close to 70 Australian women plying their trade in NCAA Division I, many of whom are amongst the leaders of their respective teams.
We preview the Top 10 Australian women who are set to have the most impact on their teams in 2016/17.
Preseason All-Aussie First Team
G | Kristy WALLACE | Baylor
Kristy Wallace only missed last season’s All Australian first team by virtue of the depth at the guard spots amongst Australians in 2015/16, but with the departure of Nicole Seekamp and Lauren Nicholson to the professional ranks, Wallace is now the premier guard amongst Australians in women’s college basketball.
Kristy Wallace | Credit: Baylor Photography
An occasional starter for one of the top teams in the nation, Wallace is now far more than just the defensive weapon that she was tagged as in her early days at Baylor. Averaging 8.1 points for her second consecutive season, Wallace was able to slightly improve her assist numbers and also provide an increased impact on the boards in 2015/16. Whilst defensive prowess is still the main feature of Wallace’s game, the Queenslander has already indicated in a preseason interview that she is looking to improve all facets of her game as she becomes a leader both on and off the court for a Baylor side that is primed for a run at a national title.
Wallace will form part of a stacked back court that features top 10 freshman Natalie Chou, and 2016 All-Big 12 First Team member Alexis Jones. The trio will have to compensate for the loss of the now-graduated Niya Johnson, but with Wallace and Jones both nightmares when defending the ball-handler and scoring potential aplenty across the board, there are few back courts in the country that can match it with Baylor.
G | Rachel BREWSTER | Utah State
Rachel Brewster came into the Utah State side as the team’s second Australian alongside Funda Nakkasoglu, and the pair ended the season as the Aggies’ top two scorers, but with Brewster certainly playing second fiddle to her fellow Victorian. Then came the news that Nakkasoglu would be transferring to Florida, and suddenly Brewster moved to the top of the pile amongst the Utah State guards. With only one other back court player accruing double figures in starts last season, Brewster will almost certainly take on more of a leadership role this season, especially with only two seniors on the team.
Rachel Brewster | Credit: Utah State Athletics
Utah State will have to find a way to replace Nakkasoglu’s 20.8 points per game from last season, and Brewster will no doubt shoulder part of this responsibility as well. With that being said, Brewster averaged 9.9 points per game last season and will have plenty of opportunities to improve that number as Nakkasoglu’s output is shared amongst the returning players.
The Aggies’ roster also features three Australian freshmen - Shannon Dufficy, Eliza West, and Olivia West - and it is hard to see Brewster not also acting as a mentor for the three freshmen in the early stages of their college careers, as Utah State retool after losing three players to graduation and two to transfers.
F |Alicia FROLING | Southern Methodist
Froling was only just edged out for Australian player of the year last season by Nicole Seekamp, so it is only logical that the junior forward is front and centre in this year’s Preseason Top 5.
Alicia Froling | Credit: Vladimir Cherry via SMU Athletics
A menace on the boards, Froling averaged 10.6 rebounds alongside 12.3 points per game to finish the season with a double-double average and break the SMU school record for rebounds in a season. Froling had two 20 rebound games last season, including possibly the best single-game performance in SMU history. She amassed an astounding 33 point, 22 rebound effort against Cincinnati that powered the Mustangs to a 73-55 victory, breaking the SMU single-game rebound record in the process.
Froling will be the undoubted leader of the Southern Methodist front court this season, with her credentials far outshining the other bigs on the roster. Named to the AAC All-Freshman team in her first season and the AAC All-Conference second team in her sophomore year, she is set for even greater things in 2016/17. The junior has also been named in the AAC All-Conference preseason second team this year, one of just three front court players amongst the eleven selected in the two teams.
F | Stephanie COLLINS | Southern Methodist
Alicia Froling may be a menace on the boards, but when Steph Collins is on her game, defensive rebounds become slightly less common for her Mustangs team-mates as she swats shots away with almost consummate ease.
Steph Collins | Credit: SMU Athletics
Last season saw Collins set SMU’s season blocks record, tallying 73 in the 30 games she played, and also set the single game blocks record, swatting away 7 shots against Tulsa in a game that also saw the 6’5 forward put up a double-double in a 62-45 win. Collins’ role may change slightly this season with the addition of 6’6 center Klara Bradshaw, who sat out last season after transferring from TCU. Even so, the junior has proven herself a vital part of the Mustangs team, especially in a team that has just four recognised front court players.
Collins more than doubled both her scoring and rebounding production between her freshman and sophomore years, and if she can improve again this season, the junior may go close to following teammate Alicia Froling and averaging a double-double.
C | Jacinta VANDENBERG | Oregon
Vandenberg spent parts of the 2015/16 season stuck behind the likes of WNBA draft pick Jillian Alleyne in the Ducks’ rotation, but this season’s Oregon front court belongs to the Victorian fifth-year senior.
Jacinta Vandenberg | Credit: Eric Evans/GoDucks.com
The only senior forward on the Oregon roster, Vandenberg will not only be tasked with doing the majority of the work inside, but also leading and mentoring a largely inexperienced front court rotation that has compiled the princely sum of 28 starts with the Ducks, with all 28 of those starts belonging to Vandenberg.
Averaging 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.1 minutes of action per game, expect those numbers to explode as Vandenberg becomes the focal point of Oregon’s inside game, with the Ducks looking to improve on last season’s 9-9 record in Pac-12 play. It will be tough, with Oregon predicted to finish 7th in the conference, but if Vandenberg can keep up last season’s per minute numbers for the extra game time she will see this season, it will go a long way to helping the Ducks exceed expectations in a stacked Pac-12, that has seen five teams earn spots in the presason AP and Coaches' Top 25 polls.
Preseason All-Aussie Second Team
G | Vanessa PANOUSIS | Virginia Tech
Hannah Young may be gone, but one member of the Australian contingent at Virginia Tech remains. Panousis has become almost synonymous with Virginia Tech women’s basketball over the last three years, starting all bar three games in her three years in Blacksburg.
Vanessa Panousis | Credit: Virginia Tech
Whilst the senior’s numbers were down last season, dipping under a double-figure scoring average for the first season of her college career, Panousis obviously has the class to lead an ever-improving Virginia Tech side. This was exhibited last season in particular in the Hokies’ win over Tennessee, where a 21 point outing for the Sydneysider led Virginia Tech to a 57-45 win and an ESPN national player of the week award.
With Virginia Tech bringing in a Top 20 freshman point guard in Genesis Parker, it may yet come to pass that Panousis shifts to a slightly more off the ball role at times this season. With Panousis known more of an outside shooter and Parker known primarily as a slasher, the Hokies certainly have a formidable back court with plenty of scoring potential, and Panousis will no doubt be champing at the bit to pick her numbers up after last season's dip in production.
G | Claire IOANNIDIS | North Florida
A junior college transfer in 2015/16, Ioannidis was named Atlantic Sun Newcomer of The Year after an outstanding season for North Florida in which the Victorian averaged 15.1 points per game. Ioannidis dropped 20 points on opponents on no less than seven occasions despite a tough season for the Ospreys in which they finished 7-23 and were bounced in the first round of the Atlantic Sun conference tournament.
Claire Ioannidis | Credit: University of North Florida
Ioannidis’ outstanding play saw the Victorian make her way into the North Florida record books with her scoring numbers the focus. Ioannidis set the single-season scoring average record and finished the season second for most points in a season by a North Florida player, racking up 454 points in 30 games.
One of just three seniors on the North Florida roster, Ioannidis is also the Ospreys’ only pure point guard and will be tasked with leading a team that will be looking to vastly improve on last season’s 7-23 record. North Florida have been tabbed to finish 4th this season by conference coaches, having lost just one player to graduation after last season and returning four of last season’s starters. Ioannidis is one of the most well-credentialed of those four, adding to last season’s Newcomer Of The Year award with a pre-season All-Atlantic Sun conference team selection with back court partner Sierra Shepherd also earning a selection.
F | Alex SHARP | Wake Forest
Whilst Sharp has already been named Pick and Roll’s preseason Freshman Of The Year, to gain a spot in the overall preseason top 10 points to just how much impact she could have for Wake Forest this season.
Alex Sharp | Credit: Wake Forest University
In a solid four player recruiting class, Sharp is the only member who is not a post player, so her competition for minutes will all come from returning players. However, with many of Wake Forest’s returning back court players missing much or all of last season due to injury, Sharp enters this season on a far more even footing with the returning players than most freshmen enjoy.
The Under 19 national team representative is renowned in Australian basketball circles for her professionalism and has already expressed her desire to improve in a recent interview, so by the time the season commences, Sharp should be ready to come in and make a serious impact for the Demon Deacons.
F | Alanna SMITH | Stanford
Whilst Smith’s impact at Stanford has been limited to this point, there is no denying the Under 19 World Championship representative’s ability to play a more meaningful part this season for the Cardinal this season, and the circumstances may just allow this.
Alanna Smith | Credit: Bob Drebin/isiphotos.com
Smith featured in 34 games for Stanford last season as the Cardinal’s first international recruit, averaging 5.4 points in 11.8 minutes of playing time per game as a freshman. Impressively, despite her low minute total, Smith finished 3rd for total blocks last season, totaling 24 at a healthy clip of 2.4 per 40 minutes of play. For comparison, leader Erica McCall’s 66 blocks came at a rate of 2.5 per 40 minutes played. Furthermore, would-be senior forward Kailee Johnson, with whom Smith was competing for minutes, has decided to forego her senior season which has unexpectedly moved Smith up a spot on the depth chart.
With this year being McCall’s senior year, the time for Smith to make her mark and ensure she is the one that coach Tara VanDerveer turns to when the time comes to replace McCall in 2017-18.
C | Megan McKAY | Saint Mary’s
As the only freshman in the four-strong Australian contingent that saw playing time at Saint Mary’s last season, Megan McKay could have been overshadowed by her more experienced compatriots. Any notion of that possibility was quickly dispelled once McKay hit the court, though.
Megan McKay | Credit Tod Fierner/Saint Mary's College Athletics
The Western Australian proved herself to be one of Saint Mary’s most important players as the season progressed, taking charge in the paint to average 7.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. Most impressively, her 61.9% field goal shooting set a Saint Mary’s single season record, eclipsing the previous mark of 60.9% on her way to securing a spot in last season's Top 10 Australians.
McKay was only able to start seven games of the 32 in which she featured last season, but the Western Australian’s performances in her freshman year should be giving Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas something to think about with regards to his lineup going into the 2016/17 season. McKay’s per-minute scoring numbers were comparable with the team’s other returning forwards, whilst her per-minute rebounding led the entire Saint Mary’s team in her freshman season.
If McKay can prove that she can put up these numbers for extended periods of playing time, the Western Australian could be in for a massive second college season.
Several players were close to making the top 10 but with so many excellent candidates, a few unfortunately had to miss out. Possibly the closest to grabbing a spot was Idaho’s Geraldine McCorkell, who was recently named to the preseason All-Big Sky team as a member of the defending conference champions, for whom she averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
A pair of Mid-American Conference players, Buffalo’s Stephanie Reid and Northern Illinois’ Courtney Woods were also amongst the players who narrowly missed out after both put up double figure scoring averages last season. Both are primed to improve on last season’s production and could easily make the jump into the end of season Top 10 if they fulfil their obvious potential.
Player of the Year
Alicia FROLING | Southern Methodist
Twin sister Keely may have returned to Australia to play in the WNBL, but Alicia remains at Southern Methodist to lead a team with an ever-improving roster. The Mustangs have been predicted to finish fifth in the American Athletic Conference, but if Froling can produce a season on par with 2015/16, the Queenslander may just help Southern Methodist over the line in a couple of games and make a charge for a top 4 spot. The first goal, though, will be to secure an overall .500 record after finishing last season 13-18.