Azusa Pacific women’s basketball was ranked fifth in the West region in the Division II Sports Information Directors Association preseason poll. The Cougars were one of four PacWest schools ranked among the top-10 in the West region, as Hawai’i Pacific was second, Concordia was picked eighth, and Fresno Pacific rounded things out at #10.
The Cougars find themselves in the fifth spot after another strong showing in 2019-20. Azusa Pacific posted a 25-5 overall record, including an 18-4 PacWest record, which was good enough for second place in the conference and the program’s fourth trip to the NCAA West Regionals. The Regional tournament was canceled prior to the start of competition due to the global pandemic.
The 2020-21 Cougars will look quite a bit different from last season, as five players who combined for 60% of the teams scoring last season will not be returning due to graduation (Savanna Hanson, Daylee Hanson, Zoe March, Rachel Bozlee and Cierra Roufosse). However, Azusa Pacific does return eight players, including the PacWest Defender of the Year and a D2CCA All-West Region First-Team selection, Laura Pranger. For the second straight year, Pranger set the single-season program record for blocked shots (120), and led the nation in blocks per game (4.62). Offensively, she averaged 11.7 points per game. Another key returner in the front court for the Cougars is sophomore Molly Whitmore, who averaged 8.9 points per game and 4.7 rebounds.
In the back court, junior Alex Lowden and sophomore Paige Uyehara will return. Lowden wreaked havoc on the defensive end for the Cougars, as she had the second most steals in the PacWest with 66 (2.4 per game). She also showed a knack for rebounding from the guard position, averaging 4.6 per game which was the fifth most on the team. Uyehara proved that she was ready for the collegiate level as a true freshman last year, appearing in 24 games prior to a season-ending injury. Over those 24 contests, she averaged 18.4 minutes per game and posted a 2.24 assist-to-turnover ratio at point guard.
Six newcomers will join the Cougar roster, including transfers Kayla Shaw (University of Delaware) and TyLee Manuel (Montana State Billings). At Delaware this past season, Shaw appeared in 17 games, starting 14 of those, averaging 7.4 points per game and knocking down at least one three in all but two contests. Manuel had a solid freshman season at Division II MSU Billings in 2019-20, playing in 30 games and shooting 51% from the floor, averaging 4.7 points per game and 3.4 rebounds. Four newcomers will get their first taste of collegiate basketball this year, as Kayden Casey, Jane Ersepke, Kelly Heimburger, and Amayah Kirkman join the Cougars as freshmen.
“While we graduated several core players, I believe that we are capable of having another successful season,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman, “We have a great group of talented returners who know what makes our program successful, and the newcomers have the skills and attitudes that will fit right in and elevate our game to even higher levels.”
The 2020-21 schedule for Azusa Pacific is still unknown, as school administration and the PacWest conference are currently working on plans that can accommodate state and local guidelines, while keeping student-athletes and coaches safe during the global pandemic. As of now, the earliest that the basketball season could begin is the week of January 18.