The road to Columbus, Ohio, for the DII Women’s Basketball Elite Eight is set to tipoff. Last season, Central Missouri claimed the title over a seemingly unbeatable Ashland team in a thrilling finale. Both the Jennies and Eagles enter the season as two of the favorites to get back to the national quarterfinals.
But who are the players that will get them there? Let’s take a look at nine players that can make a big impact on the DII women's basketball season.
Jodi Johnson, Ashland
Johnson has some big shoes to fill with two of Ashland’s all-time greats — Andi Daugherty and Laina Snyder — graduating. But if there was any one player to carry that load, it’s Johnson. There was very little she couldn’t do in her breakout sophomore season, taking home consensus Player of the Year honors from every outlet. She can score, averaging 18.7 points per game at a 60.3 percent field goal percentage, and if you leave her open beyond the arc, she will slay you, shooting a new Ashland all-time best 58.1 percent from 3. Johnson can board, ripping down 5.7 points per game and also dish it out (3.8 assists per game). She’s also DII women’s basketball’s best thief, swiping an incredible 3.7 steals per game. Having to pay constant attention to her elevates the game of Renee Stimpert, who will be one of the best floor generals in DII this season. What Johnson can do for an encore to 2018 will be fun to watch.
Morgan Fleming, Central Missouri
The reigning 2018 national champions return a lot of firepower, but it may rest on Fleming's shoulders to make an impact. Why Fleming? Gone this season is the Jennies’ muscle inside the paint, Kayonna Lee. We know Central Missouri has scorers and sound defense, but replacing the presence down low will be vital. Fleming went on a tear in the NCAA tournament, pulling down 33 rebounds in six games. She will have plenty of help on the boards from Megan Skaggs, but if Fleming's elevated presence in the postseason carries over into this season, the Jennies will be dangerous.
Hailey Tucker, Southwestern Oklahoma State
The Bulldogs have a lot of sleeper appeal entering the 2018-19 season. Tucker has some nice weapons at her side like Hayden Priddy and Bethany Franks, who led the conference in rebounding as a freshman, but her presence is vital to the team’s success. She led the Great American Conference in scoring last season with 20.5 points per game while adding 7.5 rebounds per game. At 6’2” and so athletic inside, the attention paid to Tucker makes Franks that much more dangerous down low, and Priddy, who joined Tucker in the 1,000-point club last season, that more threatening as a scorer. This team has as good a Big Three as any, and if Tucker can match her big 2018, they could make program history this season and make the Elite Eight for the first time.
Haris Price, Carson-Newman
The Eagles had a dream season last year, racking up 32 wins and a trip to the Elite Eight. Like Central Missouri, Carson-Newman has a lot of key returners and are in a prime position to make another deep run. Price is the engine that makes the Eagles’ machine roll, a machine that was the third-highest scoring offense in DII women’s basketball season with 90.9 points per game. Not only is she one of the top scorers on a top-scoring team, but she commands the floor offensively and defensively, swiping more than two-and-a-half per game. The Eagles should go far this season, and Price, with players like Mika Webster and Kayla Marosites around her, is poised for a big year.
Hailey Diestelkamp, Drury
The Panthers have been an NCAA postseason regular for quite a few years. Diestelkamp does a little bit of everything that continues to make this team a perennial contender. She’s been a model of consistency the past two years, shooting 51 and 52 percent and pulling down 8.2 rebounds in both her freshman and sophomore year. Last year, Diestelkamp became more of a scorer and that trend should easily continue this season. This is another team with a lot of returners ready for a deep run. The continued progression and ever-steady athleticism of Diestelkamp will lead the way.
Rejoice Spivey, Virginia Union
Virginia Union has become a perennial powerhouse winning 28 games in each of the last three seasons. While Spivey may not finish with the most points or rebounds on this team, she is in a position to make the biggest impact, running the floor for a team that outscored its opponents by 17.4 points per game last season. Spivey was second in DII women’s basketball with 6.9 assists per game, and that experience will be vital in replacing last year’s top scorers Alexis Johnson and Rachael Pecota. If the Panthers want to continue this run of success, a lot of it will fall on Spivey’s abilities as the on-court leader of this offense.
Yazmeen Goo, Alaska Anchorage
The only thing missing from her last name is an “L” because Goo is your quintessential “glue guy”. The Seawolves have better scorers and bigger presences down low who may steal a lot of the limelight stuffing the stat sheets, but a lot of it is from the little things in which Goo excels. Goo had a team-best 132 assists and 89 steals, all while still contributing 8.5 points per game. The Seawolves have been a tough team for the past few seasons, and with Goo in the rotation, nothing should change this year.
Jessica Kelliher, Lewis
Kelliher had her best season yet last year as a junior, and that’s really saying something. The 6’0” senior has kept the Flyers near the top of a very competitive Great Lakes Valley Conference. The All-American is a point-scoring machine, entering 2018-19 just 14 points shy of 2,000 for her career. She’s led the GLVC in scoring in each of the past two seasons, and all of DII women’s basketball in 2018, but also completely controls the paint averaging 9.0 rebounds and more than a block per game. Kelliher is a dominating force on a Lewis team that should have a dominating season.
Jada Perkins, Union
Union had a monster 32-win season last year, making it to the national semifinals. The Bulldogs will have to replace some big-time scorers including Chelsey Shumpert who was top five in DII women’s basketball with 23.8 points per game. Perkins may not be the one to dominate the scoring, but she can make an impact across the board that keeps the Bulldogs competitive in 2018-19. That said, Perkins can score, but her strength is pacing the tempo, leading the team in both assists and steals. Union only has two seniors returning after its monster season, so Perkins leadership and talent will be invaluable in repeating last season’s success.
Others to watch:
Dana Watts, American International; Riley Fitzwater, Concord; Morgan Greene, Cal. State East Bay.