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Zya Nugent is one of the top returners in 2022-23 and may be the lead candidate for WAC Player of the Year. Courtesy WAC Facebook.

10 Returners to Watch on the Women’s Side in 2022-23

The 2022-23 season is just around five months away. And that means it is time to take a look at some returners to keep an eye on as November draws closer. You may remember some of them including the WAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player. These returners are all very capable scorers but also very capable leaders. And in some cases, some of them will have to take on a more significant role due to departures and graduation.

1. Aaliyah Collins – GCU

Last year, Collins put together an impressive debut campaign while playing for Chicago State. Collins had averages of averaging 14.6 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.4 SPG, and 4.6 RPG en route to earning second team All-WAC honors. However, the Cougars departed the conference at year’s end. So, Collins hit the portal and ended up in Phoenix at GCU. It is the second straight year Molly Miller once again gets the biggest recruit of the offseason. Collins was top-10 nationally in scoring and steals among freshman and should excel in the brand of basketball Miller likes to employ.

2. Madi Miller – Abilene Christian

Miller is one of two grad players on a Wildcat squad lacking in upperclass experience (no juniors or seniors) as Abilene Christian looks to improve upon a 17-13 overall & 9-9 WAC regular season a year ago which resulted in a 2nd round tournament exit. She averaged 9.4 PPG (season high 18 on two different occasions) with 102 assists & 4.3 Rebounds Per Game on the year and shot 33% from deep on the campaign.

3. Bella Earle – Abilene Christian

Earle had a solid debut campaign in ’21-’22 (7.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 34.9% 3 pt shooter) and will be a big part of Abilene Christian’s success in the coming year. She had a season high 17 points on February 7th in a victory at the Jones Convocation Center and scored in double figures nine times.  

Bella Earle is one of a handful of key returners for Julie Goodenough and the Wildcats. Courtesy ACU Athletics.

4. Zya Nugent – Stephen F. Austin

Last year’s WAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player returns. Nugent is set to lead the Lady Jacks in a defense of their first WAC title last year. Nugent’s return has to provide Mark Kellogg a great deal of comfort. She averaged 12.9 PPG and 5.1 RPG with 79 assists & 62 steals.

5. Aiyana Johnson – Stephen F. Austin

Johnson hit her stride down the stretch, scoring in double figures in 12 of the team’s final 15 games. Johnson also reached 20 points on six occasions including a 22 point, 11-rebound performance in the much anticipated matchup against CBU on January 29. And in a road win at ACU on Feb. 26, Johnson had 28 points with 12 rebounds.

6. Trinity San Antonio – California Baptist University

San Antonio had a great debut season as part of CBU’s final transition year. The Lancers finished third in the regular season, lost in the WAC semifinals, and earned the program’s third WNIT bid in four years. San Antonio scored in double figures in eight of the team’s last 13 games. And when Jarrod Olson went to a smaller lineup, her speed was key defensively with 34 of her 52 steals coming in the stretch run. On a CBU squad that lacks returning experience from a year ago, San Antonio will be expected to take on a bigger role.

7. Madelyn Batista – Sam Houston

Last year, Batista averaged 10.7 PPG & 8.4 RPG with 55 steals as the Bearkats rallied with seven straight wins at midseason to qualify for the WAC tournament. More of the same will be expected of her after the losses of Faith Cook, Courtney Cleveland, and Damaya Telemaque to graduation if the Bearkats are to improve on their 15-16 overall & 9-9 WAC records of a year ago which led to a quarterfinal tournament exit.

8. Breaunna Gillen – Utah Tech

Utah Tech had a solid first campaign with six wins in the WAC. Two of their losses were in overtime including a memorable 3OT loss to New Mexico State. And Gillen was a key part of that success. Gillen averaged 15.2 PPG and 5.2 RPG with 156 assists (2nd behind CBU’s Ane Olaeta). And Gillen will carry a 12-game conference double figure scoring streak into next year’s conference opener.

9. Emily Isaacson – Utah Tech

Utah Tech has quite a few returners for 2022-23. Emily Isaacson is one of those returners. Isaacson finished the 2021-22 campaign with three of her final six games resulting in double figures. This includes tying a season high with 25 points (8-12 FG’s, 7 3s) in the triple OT loss against NMSU.

10. Tiarra Brown – GCU

Brown will be one of a number of veterans for Molly Miller. GCU is still looking to get over the bridesmaid’s line in both the regular season and tournament results. Brown averaged 9.5 points (with a season high of 22 on two occasions…3/11 against CBU in WACVegas & their WNIT game the following Wednesday against UNM), 4.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.9 steals and a team high 0.6 blocks per game.

Tiarra Brown is now the leader for Molly Miller and the Lopes as they look to get over the hump in both the regular season and WAC Tournament. Courtesy WAC Facebook.






About the author

Derryl Trujillo

Derryl Trujillo is a Southern California based sportswriter who won the 2019 Inland Empire Baseball Coaches Association's Supporter of the Year award. He joined the WAC Hoops Digest staff in 2020 and also covers local sports for Inland Sports and the Valley News. Before transitioning to media Derryl was a high school, collegiate and club volleyball official along with serving as a high school basketball scorekeeper for ten years.

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