From a loaded group of MAC stars to “super seniors” making one final ride in the college ranks, check out the 30 mid-major women’s players you need to know for 2021-22.
On the heels of an electrifying finish to the NCAA Tournament last month, and with another massive influx of talent on the horizon, the trajectory of women’s college hoops is looking mighty fine. That said, much of the publicity surrounding the sport focuses on the titans of the game — and with good reason. The Stanfords and UConns of the world will always draw attention, which is really not much different from how other sports are covered by major networks.
Here at Heat Check CBB, however, we pride ourselves on keeping our gaze fixed slightly further beneath the surface. As we like to say around these parts, “We love a good middie.” For that reason, it feels incredibly fitting that we begin our offseason coverage on the women’s side with a laser-focused look at some of the top mid-major players in the country.
One silver lining to the prohibitively small roster sizes in the WNBA, at least for fans of the women’s college game, is that these hoopers are less likely to test the professional waters before using up their amateur status. That rings especially true at the mid-major level, which produced just five of the 36 selections in this month’s WNBA draft. Those facts, coupled with the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, mean that there is an incredible amount of talent in women’s college basketball, both at the highest levels and lower down the ladder.
Before diving into our list, I want to give a massive shout to the folks at Her Hoop Stats. In a time where WBB statistics are not always easy to find, their site provides an incredible resource for women’s basketball statistics (college and pro) that is well worth the cost of a subscription. We highly recommend.
Of course, this is in no way a comprehensive list, nor is it presented in any particular order. We do hope, however, that this survey of the mid-major landscape will serve as a good jumping-off point for anyone looking to dive into the world of women’s hoops.
With all that out of the way, let’s get started.
In the world of mid-major basketball, one star is great — but two is better. We’ll start, then, with a few of the top pairings outside of the high-major conferences.
Bree Salenbien/Jenn Wirth, Gonzaga
Without leaning too hard on comparisons to the men’s game, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between the situations with both of Gonzaga’s basketball programs. While the Zags have gotten massive press for signing top men’s players such as Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren the past two years, a story you may be less familiar with is that of Bree Salenbien. The 6-foot-3 star is a Top 50 recruit, per ESPN, which makes her the highest-rated recruit in program history. She’ll have big shoes to fill as leading scorer Jill Townsend opted not to use her extra year of eligibility, but the Michigan native can score from anywhere on the court and should be up to the task. It’s not as though she’s coming into a bare cupboard, either. Jenn Wirth returns for one last run at glory after helping lead Gonzaga to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Belmont in the first round. Wirth’s 12.4 points per game leads all returning Zags, and she was also one of the better rebounders in the country a year ago. This past men’s season showed us what can happen when a top recruit joins forces with an established program in Spokane. Can these Zags make their own deep March run?
Brice Calip/Jasmine Franklin, Missouri State
With all due respect to the stellar career of Abby Hipp, the largest share of the Bears’ recent run of success can be attributed to Brice Calip and Jasmine Franklin. Both will return in 2021-22 as Missouri State eyes a return to the Big Dance after earning their own No. 5 seed. Unlike Gonzaga, the Bears made it to the second round, where they were trounced by eventual national champion Stanford. Calip (13.6 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.1 spg) is the reigning MVC Player of the Year and is coming back for a super senior year. In fact, this will be the sixth season that Calip has played for MSU, having taken a redshirt after six appearances in 2016-17. Making up the other half of this dynamic pairing is Franklin (12.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.3 spg), who was an All-MVC First Teamer in her own right. She will look to repeat that achievement as she enters her senior season in Springfield. The long tradition of Missouri State women’s hoops remains in great hands thanks to this group.
Myah Selland/Tylee Irwin, South Dakota State
The reigning Summit League regular-season champs, the Jackrabbits were knocked out in the first round of the conference tournament, but still earned a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost in their opening game. Despite that disappointment, South Dakota State should be right back in the mix for a trip to the postseason in 2020-21. One major reason for optimism is the return of seniors Myah Selland and Tylee Irwin. Selland won the Summit League POY award during a season in which she averaged 19.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in 20 appearances for SD State. An injury in February cut short her stellar season, which explains the team’s struggles down the stretch. Joining Selland for her SDSU swansong is Irwin, a sharpshooter who knocked down 38.8% of her threes and 88% of her free throws last year. While Irwin could improve her game inside the arc (just 47.6% on twos), her three-point shooting has been (and will continue to be) a huge part of South Dakota State’s success. Under longtime head coach Aaron Johnston, who currently serves on the USA Basketball U19 coaching staff, look for the Selland, Irwin, and the rest of the Jackrabbits to hop into the Big Dance next spring.
Kierstan Bell/TK Morehouse, Florida Gulf Coast
In case you haven’t heard, there’s way more to FGCU than the ghosts of Dunk City. For starters, Kierstan Bell is a legitimate WNBA-level talent who earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention accolades as a freshman at Ohio State in 2019-20 before making the surprising decision to transfer to the ASUN. In year one at Florida Gulf Coast, Bell broke out for 24 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game, in addition to over four “stocks” (steals plus blocks) and nearly three assists. TK Morehouse, meanwhile, scored to the tune of 17.7 points every night and led the team with 3.6 assists per game. Put it together, and the result was a 24-3 season and a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With another year of development for both of these young dynamos, Bell and Morehouse are likely to deliver another ASUN title to Fort Myers. They may even be poised to score an upset (or two) in the NCAA Tournament next March.
Jasmine Dickey/Ty Battle, Delaware
Our last iteration of terrible twosomes hails from The First State, as Jasmine Dickey and Ty Battle suit up for another shot to take the Blue Hens back to the NCAA Tournament. Delaware won the Colonial regular-season title but were relegated to the WNIT after falling to Drexel in the CAA championship game. Dickey, the CAA Player of the Year, helped lead the Blue Hens to the WNIT semifinals and finished with averages of 22.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for the year. The 5-foot-10 bucket-getter is a solid choice to win league POY once again, but she’ll have plenty of help from teammates, including Battle. The daughter of former NBAer Kenny Battle, the Blue Hen forward earned an All-CAA First Team nod last season in her first action for the team after transferring from Indiana State. Battle, who averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds per game, had the second-most double-doubles (19) of any player in Division I hoops last year. While a trip to WNIT semis was a deeper run than Delaware would’ve likely had in the NCAA Tournament, you can bet that Dickey and Battle will be extremely motivated to deliver UD their first trip to the Big Dance since 2013.
If you’re wondering why the MAC gets its own section in this piece, consider this: there were a total of 31 players who scored 20 or more points per game last season, and six of those players resided in the good ol’ Mid-American. Five of those certified buckets are returning to the floor in 2021-22 — and the talent doesn’t stop there.
CeCe Hooks, Ohio
I suppose it makes sense to start with the reigning MAC Player of the Year who is coming off a season where she scored 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game, while also taking home the league’s DPOY honors. It’s not like this came out of the blue, either; Hooks, who has more than 2,000 points in her Ohio career, has improved in each of her first four seasons in Athens. As for how the Bobcats’ star came about that Defensive POY award? Look no further than a ridiculous 3.8 steals per game and a very respectable 84.8 defensive rating. Hooks actually recorded a triple-double with 31 points, ten assists, and ten steals last season. This is about as complete a player as you’ll find at the college level. Last season, Hooks’ registered as a Top 10 player according to John Hollinger’s PER formula and recorded 7.6 win shares (29th in NCAA D-I). All of that led to an honorable mention on the All-America list this spring, but don’t be surprised to see Hooks land on one of the three All-America teams in 2021-22.
Dyaisha Fair, Buffalo
Speaking of triple-double threats, Dyaisha Fair recorded one of her own against Akron back in December, notching 28 points, 12 rebounds, and ten assists. That wasn’t just a flash in the pan, though. If you’re making a list of potential challengers for Hooks’ MAC crown, Fair’s name should probably be right at the top. As a sophomore in 2020-21, the Bulls’ guard scored over 24 points per game. There are no two ways about it: Fair’s game is a volume operation. The Bulls offense afforded her over 21 shots per game last season, but the result was just a 42.0% EFG rate, including just 39% on two-pointers. (To her credit, Fair is an 81% free throw shooter and gets to the line quite a bit.) At the end of the day, you can forgive some inefficiency when a player produces as many points as Fair does. In addition to her own scoring, she also dished out more than five assists per game last season, while grabbing six rebounds and recording three steals.
Molly Davis, Central Michigan
It’s not every day that you see a college basketball team boast two 20-point scorers, but that’s what the Chippewas had last season with Micaela Kelly and Molly Davis. With Kelly gone to the professional ranks (and here’s hoping she catches on after being waived by Connecticut), the Chippewa offense now shifts onto Davis’ capable shoulders. The guard has started every game in her two seasons for CMU, and last season she played just under 38 minutes each time out. She could certainly cut down on turnovers and fouls, but there is plenty of time to iron out those kinks. More importantly, Davis is a career 38.6% shooter from distance, and her 76 made threes was tied for 11th-most in the country. With the increased offensive share in Kelly’s absence and another year of development of her own, Davis should repeat as an All-MAC First Teamer this season and might even give Iowa’s Caitlin Clark a run for most made threes.
Chelby Koker, Northern Illinois
Another sharpshooter entering year three is Koker, whose Huskies finished with a .500 record in 2020-21 but look to improve this season. If that is to happen, it will likely be thanks to the efforts of Koker, an All-MAC Second Team selection who scored over 21 points per game last season while shooting 38 percent on 145 attempts. Like Davis, the major issue in the NIU star’s game comes down to problems with turnovers and fouls. Then again, considering how many games they each had to play against Hooks and Fair, it’s no wonder that MAC guards racked up the giveaways. For her part, Koker was getting two steals of her own, so it’s not like it was a completely one-way street. This is yet another well-rounded player (6.3 rpg, 3.8 apg) who is blossoming into a major star.
Peyton Scott, Miami (OH)
Joining Koker on the All-MAC Second Team was Miami’s Peyton Scott, who has started every game in two season for the RedHawks whose 21.2 points and 5.2 assists per game ranked 21st and 27th in the country last year, respectively. If there’s one team that can attest to Scott’s abilities as both a scorer and passer, it’s Ball State. In two games against the Cardinals last year, Scott first dropped a stat line of 19 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds, and seven steals, and then followed that performance up with a 39-point barrage. Scott is not the deadliest shooter, hitting just 29% of her three-pointers last season, but gets to the line fairly often and knocks down a cool 83.7% there.
Nila Blackford, Kent State
While Blackford may not have the distinction of being a 20-point scorer, the Golden Flash star earned a spot on the All-MAC Second Team by averaging a double-double, posting nightly averages of 15.4 points and 10.6 rebounds. The sophomore forward has started all but two games for Kent State the past two seasons and could make her way onto the league’s first team as one of the better frontcourt players in the MAC. Blackford’s mark of 4.4 offensive rebounds per game ranked in the Top 15 nationally and matched that of Charli Collier, the No. 1 pick in this month’s WNBA draft.
Lexi Fleming, Bowling Green
In a list chock-full of players who produced as sophomores, Fleming made the All-MAC Second Team as the league’s top frosh a season ago, thanks to her scoring nearly 16 points per game and starting every game for Bowling Green. The Cincinnati native may only stand 5-foot-5, but her game packs some serious wallop. Fleming does a little bit of everything for the Falcons, and considering what the rest of this list did in their second season, it’s easy to imagine that Fleming is about to log an even stronger campaign in year two. Another 20-point scorer may be on the horizon at BGSU.
THE SENIOR TOUR
As mentioned before, part of the reason there is so much talent at the mid-major level is that most of last year’s senior class is back for more. Here’s a look at a few of the most notable players taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility and making one final run at the collegiate level.
Hannah Sjerven, South Dakota
Sjerven and the Coyotes were the main beneficiaries of South Dakota State being upset by Omaha in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. USD won the event and earned the automatic bid and No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but despite 18 and 12 from Sjerven, the Yotes couldn’t get past Oregon. With the 6-foot-3 center back for another year, look for another exciting battle in The Mount Rushmore State. Sjerven — who set a D-I mark last season by recording the first-ever 30-20 game — has won two consecutive Summit League Defensive POY awards, was an All-Summit First Team selection last year, and led the league in rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage. All of that led to her being a finalist for the Becky Hammond Mid-Major Player of the Year Award.
Macee Williams, IUPUI
Is there a better model of consistency in college basketball than Macee Williams? The IUPUI star has now taken home three Horizon League Player of the Year awards, and with her return confirmed, the 6-foot-2 Williams could be on her way to a fourth. Last season, the Jaguar center went off for 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, dominating the Horizon along the way. Williams could end up leaving college as one of the most decorated individuals in history, but the true motivation for this final season will be on getting IUPUI to the NCAA Tournament after the Jags’ 2020 Big Dance ticket — the first in school history, mind you — was torn up due to COVID-19.
Jazz Bond, North Florida
While Bond may have never had much chance at ASUN POY given the performance of Kierstan Bell, the Osprey center did take home the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award and made the cut as an All-ASUN First Teamer. Bond recorded nearly three swats per game, ranking as one of the Top 20 shot-blockers in the nation a year ago. The UNF forward has made the All-ASUN team in each of her three seasons at the school since transferring from South Florida and will look to give Bell a run for her money in the league’s Player of the Year race.
Sam Breen, Massachusetts
Part of UMass’ so-called “Savage Seven,” Breen returns for a final season alongside a very solid core group, which should have A-10 opponents worried. The super-senior forward started her career at Penn State, but has spent a season and a half with the Minutewomen after transferring midway through her sophomore season. After sitting out the 2019 fall semester due to transfer rules, Breen has been a force for UMass. One of the few players in the country to average a double-double, Breen’s 18 points and 10 rebounds were enough to earn an All-A10 First Team selection. If she keeps up this kind of production, a Player of the Year Award may not be far off.
Iggy Allen, Old Dominion
Allen nearly missed out on being eligible for this list after entering the transfer portal following an incredible year at Florida Atlantic. Thankfully for mid-major fans, the super-grad-transfer isn’t going too big-time — in fact, Allen isn’t even leaving the C-USA. Instead, she will take her considerable talents to Old Dominion, looking to repeat as an All-CUSA First Teamer after going to FAU from Miami last year. In 2020-21, Allen scored a whopping 22.4 points per game on 37.2% shooting from beyond the arc on her way to earning the C-USA Newcomer of the Year Award.
NOT SUPER-SENIORS, BUT STILL SUPER
While those seniors are certainly worth all of the accolades they’ve earned, the players in the classes behind them are already poised for greatness. Actually, forget “poised” — these mid-major hoopers are great right now.
Angel Baker, Wright State
Who could forget the stunning performance of Baker during Wright State’s first-round upset of Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament? While that game may have put the Raiders’ star on the national radar, Baker has been a consistent performer for her whole career. Last season, she scored 18 points per game while adding five rebounds, nearly three assists, and more than a steal per game. It may prove difficult to unseat Macee Williams for Horizon League POY, but Baker is as good a bet as anyone to be the one to do it.
Destinee Wells, Belmont
While we’re on the topic of mid-major stars who propelled their teams to first-round upsets in the NCAA Tournament, Wells’ 25-point, seven-assist performance against No. 5 seed Gonzaga was one of the highlights of the whole tourney. The Ohio Valley Freshman of the Year is back for more in year two, after averaging nearly 18 points and shooting just under 40% from three-point land. Wells also notched nearly five assists per game to go with almost two and a half steals. The Belmont sophomore will be one of the most exciting players in the country next year, regardless of level.
Ioanna Krimili, San Francisco
If you’re a fan of the longball, look no further than Krimili. The Greek guard knocked down 94 triples at a 45% clip, finishing right among Big Ten stars Caitlin Clark (Iowa) and Katie Benzan (Maryland) as the best three-point shooters in the country last year. Krimili also gets to the free-throw line well, and if she can get a little more accurate on the two-pointers, her scoring average could easily top 20 points per game. A shooter of this caliber should have plenty of WNBA teams doing their due diligence next season.
Haley Cavinder, Fresno State
Despite a disappointing finish to the 2020-21 season, which ended with a WNIT appearance after Wyoming beat the Bulldogs in the Mountain West title game, Haley Cavinder is still a name you should be watching next season. As a sophomore, Cavinder won MW Player of the Year by averaging just under 20 points per game and grabbing 7.5 rebounds nightly despite standing just 5-foot-6. Throw in nearly four assists and two steals per game, too. Cavinder stuffs a stat sheet as well as just about anyone in the country and could add some more hardware to a growing trophy case (she was selected MW Freshman of the Year in 2019-20).
Alex Fowler, Portland
Though I will likely be accused of some hometown bias here, consider this: the Aussie forward has made the All-WCC First Team in each of her two seasons playing on The Bluff in North Portland. Last year, Fowler was voted Newcomer of the Year. A 6-foot-1 junior, Fowler provides the Pilots with skills in the post and has skills on the defensive end as well. The stats — while still impressive at 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, and three assists — actually took a slight dip in year two, but Fowler should be poised for another big year in the WCC.
As we circle back to the WCC, it is important to note that Gonzaga’s Bree Salenbien is not the only Top 100 recruit from the Class of 2021 star headed for the mid-major ranks — in fact, another one is touching down elsewhere in the conference. Here is a look at three first-year players from ESPN’s Top 75 who will be making big impacts at the lower levels.
Se’Quoia Allmond, Jackson State
Though it may not have gotten the same publicity as Makur Maker’s decision did, Allmond’s choice back in November to attend an HBCU over the likes of Kansas and Kentucky is equally newsworthy, considering her status as the No. 70 recruit in the country, per ESPN. Allmond, a 5-foot-7 point guard hailing from Memphis, joins a Tiger program that just made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. With this four-star recruit in the fold, another trip to the postseason may be in the cards for JSU.
Callie Genke, Green Bay
Though the Green Bay program is a few years removed from its incredible run of 20 consecutive Horizon League titles between 1998 and 2018, the Phoenix may be rising once again thanks to a little hometown cooking. Genke, a 6-foot guard, is not only the No. 73 recruit in the nation, but she is also a product of Freedom, Wisc., a suburb just minutes outside of Green Bay. The addition of a some serious local flavor should soften the blow of saying goodbye to team MVP Caitlyn Hibner.
Emma Calvert, BYU
Similar to the situation with Genke and Green Bay, the move for Calvert will be a short one. While her hometown of Farr West is closer to mid-majors Weber State and Utah State, the trip to Provo takes less than 90 minutes by car. So expect to see lots of family in attendance as Calvert, the No. 74 recruit in America, torches the nets in the WCC. The 6-foot-4 forward has earned heaps of praise from longtime Cougars head coach Jeff Judkins and should help BYU back to the Big Dance after the team earned a No. 11 seed last season.
While there is every reason to watch established, powerhouse programs like UConn and Stanford, don’t forget that there’s also a thriving ecosystem just beneath the high-major surface, full of legitimate stars ready to make their mark on the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season.
Which mid-major stars are you most looking forward to watching in 2020-21? We couldn’t fit everyone on this list, so connect with us on Twitter (@HeatCheckCBB) to add some names to the conversation and keep coming back for more coverage of women’s college basketball at Heat Check CBB!
Header image courtesy of Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos.