It was definitely a tough year for New Mexico State women’s basketball in 2021-22. The Aggies, who are not used to being at the bottom, once again found themselves there. The struggles over the past three years under Brooke Atkinson led Athletic Director Mario Moccia to not renew her contract when it expired in April.
Atkinson joined the staff at the University of Wyoming under Heather Ezell. Meanwhile, Moccia brought in former Wichita State head coach and Tennessee Lady Vol Jody Adams-Birch to take the helm in Las Cruces.
Adams-Birch, who went 161-115 at Wichita State from 2008-17, faces a tough rebuild at a program known for success in mid-major women’s basketball.
Jody Adams-Birch (1st year)
185-23 overall (Four NCAA Tournament appearances and four conference tournament titles)
2021-22 Season Record:
10-19 overall, 6-12 WAC…lost in first round of conference tournament to Lamar
Bigue Sarr – Graduation
Rodrea Echols- Transfer Portal (no new commitment according to the wbbblog.com website)
Mel Isbell- Transfer Portal (no new commitment according to the wbbblog.com website)
Jade Bradley- Graduated
Ene Adams, 6-1, Fr, F
Ashlee Strawbridge, 6-1, So, F
Raegan Halliday, 5-7, Fr, G
Sabou Gueye, 5-9, So, G
Molly Kaiser, 5-8, So, G
Sofia Inoussa, 5-7, Sr, G
Tayelin Grays, 5-8, Sr, G
Projected Starting 5:
A season ago, the Aggies were in a majority of their 18 conference games. However, the Aggies went just 3-10 in games decided by 10 points or less. Most notable of those 10 losses was a blown 19-point third quarter lead at Abilene Christian on January 15. Another was an Amara Graham buzzer beater to fall 61-59 at GCU Arena on January 29.
There was a bright spot for the Aggies in WAC play as they defeated Dixie State 84-82 on February 10 in the Pan American center in triple overtime.
In most cases when a new coach comes in the existing roster leaves. That is not the case at New Mexico State. The core of last year’s team in Molly Kaiser (8.2 PPG), Soufia Inoussa (6.6 PPG), and Tayelin Grays (6.1 PPG) elected to stay in Las Cruces. Adams-Birch only lost two returners in the transition as Rodrea Echols and Melanie Isbell both hit the portal but have not committed to a new home.
Areas of Improvement:
The shooting has to improve. Poor shooting percentages were the first thing which popped off at me. New Mexico State shot 27.2 percent from 3-point range last season. And also shot just shy of 40 percent from the field. Fama Thiam led the Aggies in 3-point percentage at 41.7 percent. But that’s on a sample size of just 36 attempts. Sofia Inoussa took 88 3-pointers but hit on just 23 percent from outside the arc. New Mexico State was 7th in points per game at 64.4. But the Aggies were 12th in 3-point shooting percentage and 10th in total field goal shooting percentage a year ago.
Defensively the Aggies were 10th in field goal percentage allowed (41.7%). But, 13th in 3-point percentage field goal defense (32.3%). The Aggies managed a mid-pack finish in points per game allowing just 64.6. They were plus-4.6 in rebounding, which was 3rd in total margin in the WAC.
These are numbers that will have to improve for the Aggies to compete in a new look Western Athletic Conference.
In rookie head coach Jody Adams-Birch’s favor, she gets some key players back. Four players who combined to make 57 starts are back in Inoussa, Kaiser, Grays, and Taylor Donaldson. Donaldson and Kaiser combined for just two starts. But, both players logged just a bit over 18 minutes per contest and should get early opportunities to start.
Ashlee Strawbridge made 19 starts at the JUCO level a year ago. And at CSI, Strawbridge averaged 21 minutes per game while scoring 8.8 points per contest. Strawbridge should also get floor time alongside the Aggie veterans early on.
What I want to see early is how the Aggies respond in tight fourth quarter situations, which seemed to be their issue last year. Do they take the lessons learned and figure out how to get it done in their final WAC year or is it another long year for the Aggie women’s basketball program?