Collegian basketball reporter Keegan Pope is back again with his “Way Too Early” 2014-15 Mountain West Conference predictions, this time looking at the women’s hoops scene.
Note: All predictions are subject to change due to transfers and/or new commitments.
1. Colorado State
The Rams were last year’s Cinderella team in the Mountain West after being picked to finish seventh in the preseason league coaches poll before taking the regular season title. Behind senior forward Sam Martin and a host of talented newcomers, the Rams finished 15-3 in the MW en route to a 25-8 season that saw them fall just a game short of the NCAA tournament. But don’t expect teams to take the Rams lightly next year. Despite losing Martin, the Rams return four of five starters, key role players Emilie Hesseldal and Hanne Mestdagh as well as bringing in two junior college standouts in Jamie Patrick and Keyora Wharry.
2. Boise State
The Broncos return everyone from a team that finished in a tie for third in the MW last year, and just a game behind Fresno State for second. Led by all-conference guard/forward Deanna Weaver, the Broncos could give Colorado State a run for its money as the conference top dog.
3. Fresno State
The Bulldogs lose their two best players in Bree Farley and Taylor Thompson, but return an experienced group with five players who played more than 19 minutes per game last season. Incoming head coach Jamie White likely won’t have the same success Reagan Pebley has had of recent, but the cupboard is nowhere near empty.
The Cowgirls lose second-leading scorer and rebounder Fallon Lewis and key role players Chelan Landry and Kaylee Hoffman. But if Wyoming’s triple-overtime loss to Colorado State showed us anything, it’s that the Cowgirls have plenty of depth. Honorable Mention All-American Kayla Woodward returns, along with deadeye shooter Katelyn Mileto, lightning quick guard Marquelle Dent and bruising forwards Kaylie Rader and Jordan Sibrel. Laramie has always been a tough venue for opposing teams to win in and next season should be no different.
Despite losing two of their three leading scorers to graduation, the Wolfpack return almost everyone else next season. Guard Terilyn Moe, forward Emily Burns, and 6-foot-8 center Mimi Mungedi all will be back after starting a combined 80 games last season. Couple that with key reserves Aja Johnson and Nyasha LeSure and the Wolfpack will again contend near the top of the MW.
After finishing seventh in the MW last season, the Rebels bring back their entire roster expect for guard Mia Bell. UNLV returns five of its top-six scorers and seven players who logged more than 15 minutes per game last year. If they can find scoring options outside of Alana Cesarz and Danielle Miller, the Lady Rebels have a chance to slide into the top half of the league.
7. New Mexico
Like Nevada, the Lobos lose two their two best players with the graduation of Deeva Vaughn and Sara Halasz, but return six players who averaged more than 17 minutes per game including leading scorers Antiesha Brown and Khadijah Shumpert. More consistent production from reserve Ebony Walker, who averaged 10 points in the three games she played, could be a big boost but there is simply too much depth on the aforementioned six teams for New Mexico to move up too far.
8. San Diego State
The Lady Aztecs will be hit hard by the loss of leading scorers Cierra Warren and Danesha Long, who were the only players to average double-figure scoring last season. But if there was a bright spot for SDSU in an otherwise disappointing season, it came from freshman guard Ariell Bostick. The freshman from Oakland, Calif., was third on the team in scoring (9.4 ppg) and led the team with 65 assists. However, she’ll need a lot of help from a young supporting cast to elevate the Aztecs back to the top of the league.
9. Utah State
No team loses more with the graduation of a single player than the Aggies do with the loss of guard Jennifer Schlott. The senior led Utah State in scoring, minutes, assists and was second on the team in steals. The Aggies return almost everyone else but will have a hard time replacing everything Schlott meant to their program.
10. San Jose State
The Spartans return everyone from a team that finished 11-19 last season and upset Colorado State late in the season after losing by 41 to the same Rams team earlier last year. If they can find a more balanced scoring attack and cut down on their turnovers, the Spartans have a chance to challenge the likes of New Mexico, UNLV, and San Diego State.
11. Air Force
There simply isn’t much the Falcons can do to get themselves out of the conference cellar. Recruiting women to any service academy is incredibly difficult, let alone athletes. Air Force returns most of its roster from last season, but it is the same roster that went 0-18 in the league.
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.