WJU Women Out To Defend MEC Crown
WHEELING — The Wheeling Jesuit women are ready to defend their Mountain East Conference Tournament Championship. The Cardinals return 11 players, including four of their top-5 scorers, from a team that finished 27-6, including the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory against West Chester University.
“As a team, we want to pick up where we left off last season,” WJU coach Debbie Buff said. “We aim to lead the MEC in defense for the second consecutive year, but we know the challenge that this will be. Our league is as talented as it’s ever been from top to bottom, so we need to stay healthy and collect quality road wins.”
Following the Cardinals’ regional semifinal run, they were voted second in the 2016-17 preseason MEC coaches poll and earned the sixth spot in the D2CCA Atlantic Regional rankings.
WJU will look to four players to lead the charge in the upcoming season. Seniors Kylie Frizell, Chelsea Richardson, and Jaana Motton are joined by junior Mariah Callen as team captains.
“Our captains have been leading by example, and they are as ready as anyone for the upcoming challenges,” Buff said. “I am excited to see where they can lead us.”
Guiding the backcourt will be Callen, who has served as the team’s point guard each of her first two seasons. Callen earned All-MEC honorable mention during a sophomore season in which she averaged 11.4 points per game and shot better than 40 percent from the field.
“Mariah is our floor general,” Buff said. “She has gained a lot of big-game experience that can help us win close games. She can shoot, control the game, or get the ball where it needs to be. We look for her to push and guide our tempo of play.”
Callen will be joined at the guard position by five returners and six incoming players. Frizell and Richardson return from junior seasons in which each recorded quality minutes.
“Chelsea and Kylie give us flexibility at various positions,” Buff added. “They are working hard on both ends of the court and we look for them to continue their successes from last season.”
Guard Cassi Stein returns for her junior season after starting nearly half of the Cardinals’ games as a sophomore.
Stein looks to continue to excel as a defensive leader, while also improving on the offensive end.
“Cassi will be one of our high-energy guards and serve as a defensive stopper,” Buff said. “She has also worked on her perimeter jump shot and we look for her to contribute on the offensive end of the court.”
Marissa Tucker, a Wheeling Park graduate, and Aaliyah Sadler return for their sophomore seasons.
“Marissa has worked very hard on getting healthy after injuries,” Buff said. “She is one of the most positive athletes I have ever coached. She has a great basketball IQ and will provide perimeter shooting. Aaliyah has improved and will continue to get better on both ends of the court. She is very unselfish and a wonderful athlete to coach.”
IUP transfer Monica Burns joins the roster as a redshirt sophomore.
“Mo is a long-range perimeter shooter and has already made our program better,” Buff said. “She works as a hard as any athlete and will make an immediate impact in the backcourt.”
While the Cardinals do return a talented group of guards, the staff signed five freshmen at the position. Khira Burton, Deja Dabney, Reily Sturm, Lauren Lipscomb and Taliah Cashwel expect to compete for playing time on the deep WJU roster.
In the front court, the fourth captain, Motton, looks to lead a talented group of forwards. As a junior, Motton supplied the offense with 9.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
“Simply put, I am glad Jaana is on our team,” Buff said. “She is a force inside. She came back fit as could be and has matured as an athlete. She’s extremely passionate and plays hard every chance she gets.”
Joining Motton is Chenelle Moore who finished her freshman campaign third in scoring (9.2) and second in rebounding (6.3) per game.
“Chenelle has made a big jump into her sophomore year,” Buff said. “She’s very athletic, runs the floor like a deer, and is working to become a better defender. We expect big things out of her.”
Lydia Hyburg and Kiarra Kamarec also join Motton and Moore as returners to the frontcourt.
“Lydia can score from various spots on the floor and will compete for minutes at the post. Kiarra is a tall, lefty presence that provides great depth at her position.”
Aislyn Hartman, a freshman from Cincinnati, rounds out the rotation.
“Aislyn provides great depth and is an extremely athletic post player,” Buff added. “We expect good things to come from Aislyn.”