Wildcats
Airion Simmons helped lead ACU to a WAC tournament runner-up finish in 2012-22. Courtesy Breanna Biorato/Visually Breanna.

WAC Title Game, Moody Renovation Highlight Wildcats First Year in the WAC

For the Abilene Christian Wildcats, the first year in the WAC had its ups and downs.

On the men’s side, it was a streaky-type of season for the Wildcats. And for the women’s, it was a struggle with consistency. The men’s team, under head coach Brette Tanner, earned the six-seed at the WAC tournament. And Julie Goodenough’s squad was the five-seed at WAC Vegas.

And as part of its first year in the WAC, the Wildcats had to play another season in the Teague Center. ACU’s home arena, Moody Coliseum, was not ready to play in during the 2021-22 season. ACU vice president of athletics Zack Lassiter believes the newly renovated arena be a ‘game-changer’ and ready for the 2022-23 season.

Here is a short recap for both squads as well as a brief look at the upcoming 2022-23 season.

Men’s Basketball 2021-2022 recap  

Success continued for the Wildcats in their first season in the WAC finishing with a WAC championship loss, CBI semifinal loss, and a fourth straight 20 win season.

It was literally a season of streaks for the men’s squad. After dealing with COVID early on, the Wildcats reeled off 11-straight wins. One of the wins was opening night of WAC play at Utah Valley. And then it was a five-game losing streak against the top teams of the WAC. The Wildcats followed this up with a six-game win streak before leveling off somewhat.

But, ACU won its final two games to clinch the six-seed.

WAC Vegas Run

And in Las Vegas, the Wildcats won three games in three days to make it to the WAC title game. ACU beat Utah Valley to start its tourney run. And then on back-to-back nights, beat regular season co-champs SFA and Seattle.

Perhaps it was a lack of size or maybe it was simply the Wildcats were out of gas but ACU couldn’t hang around for 40 minutes against eventual champion New Mexico State.

After a disheartening 68-52 loss to the New Mexico State Aggies in the WAC championship, the Wildcats landed a bid to the College Basketball Invitational again as the No. 6 seed. Brette Tanner’s first season as Wildcat head coach ended with a 85-69 loss to the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders in the CBI semifinal round. 

“I believe it’s 2 Samuel 24 that talks about the knight going into a snowy pit, chasing the lion, and he kills it,” Tanner said. “Your average person sees a lion and he runs away, special people chase that lion into the pit. I coach a bunch of lion chasers. It’s hard right now but man I’d go into battle with these guys every day.”

Tanner finished his first year as head coach with the third most wins in a single season in school history. Tanner led the Wildcats to a school record five postseason wins. All five wins came against opponents who had 20 or more wins (Utah Valley, Stephen F. Austin, Seattle U, Troy and Ohio). In addition to these accolades Tanner was named a finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award, which is given to the top first-year head coach in Division I.

A Look Ahead at 2022-23

Summer workouts are underway with seven new Wildcats looking to make their mark. One of the newcomers is former Wildcat Joe Pleasant. Pleasant hit the game-sealing free throw to help 14-seed ACU defeat the 3-seed Texas Longhorns, 53-52, in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. 

Last year, Pleasant, an Overland Park, Kan. native, spent his time back home at Wichita State where he averaged under three points and three rebounds per game. In his last season as a Wildcat under former head coach Joe Golding, Pleasant was a tear in the paint averaging 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in close to 23 minutes a game. 

Joining Pleasant as newcomers are:

  • Hunter-Jack Madden: 6’2 guard, sophomore, played for former and new ACU assistant coach Ted Crass at Otero Junior College.
  • Ali Dibba: 6’4 wing, sophomore, Chicago State transfer.
  • Jai’Vion Seat: 6’3 guard, freshman, 2022 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year.
  • Dubem Muoneke: 6’5 wing, freshman, 2-star rating on 247Sports and some outlets had him rated as a top 30 player in Texas. 
  • Reese Miller: 6’3 guard, walk-on freshman, averaged over 20 points per game at Round Rock High School.
  • Colby Tanner: 5’10 guard, walk-on redshirt freshman, student manager last season and is Coach Tanner’s son.

“We’re starting to look more like a mid-major Division I basketball team,” Tanner said. “Now whether we’re going to play like it remains to be seen. But we definitely will be bigger. You know, that was our major goal.”

ACU is going to be strong again this season with size on the perimeter that they lacked last season. However, the WAC is no slouch. There is more parity in the league in 2022-23. And it will be tough for Tanner and the Wildcats to replicate the run they had at the 2021-22 WAC Tourney. Despite the tough competition, the Wildcats have all the tools necessary to be a strong contender for a WAC title in year two. 

Women’s Basketball 2021-2022 Recap 

Julie Goodenough and the 5-seed Wildcats had an abrupt end to their 2021-2022 season. A 73-70 opening round loss to the 8-seed UTRGV Vaqueros ended ACU’s first year in the WAC. 

The Wildcats struggled to break the .500 mark in conference play but finished with an overall record of 17-13. 

“We stubbed our toes several times and been a little bit inconsistent finishing ball games and today was no exception to that,” Goodenough said. “But I think we look at our total body of work. And we have a lot to be proud of. Overall, it’s been a really fun season and a really fun group to coach.” 

Despite the rough patch at the end of the year, Goodenough has had a winning season every year for the past decade. 2011-2012 was the last time the Wildcats had a losing season with a 12-14 record.   

A lot of the faces from last year’s team either transferred or graduated. Gone is WAC first-team and newcomer of the year guard Jamie Bonnarens. Along with Bonnarens leaving were eight others including starters Kamryn Mraz and Tatum Barber. 

A Look Ahead to 2022-23

Goodenough knows how to rebuild a roster from year to year. And in 2022-23, nine newcomers will fill the holes left behind. One of the filled holes is the return of Madi Miller who decided to come back with her COVID year granted by the NCAA.

Apart from Miller, the newcomers are:

  • Reagan Fox, 5’10 freshman guard out of Blanchard, Okla. Adds size on the perimeter and knows how to score down low, a key trait for a Goodenough player. 
  • Aspen Thornton, 5’6 sophomore guard transfer from Ouachita Baptist, a Div. II program. Top Div. II scorer in the country last year, scored 608 points in a single season.
  • Maleeah Langstaff, 6’0 graduate forward transfer from Northeastern State. Named All-Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (Div. II) honorable mention last year. Scored over 17 points and just under nine rebounds per game. 
  • Hampton Williams, 5’9 freshman forward out of Salina, Kan. Three-point shooter which Goodenough loves. 
  • Zoe Jackson, 5’8 sophomore guard transfer from Butler. Played in 27 games and started 20 for Butler. Averaged 6.8 points, 3 assists, 2.6 rebounds in under 28 minutes per game last year. 
  • Tristen Keller, 5’8 freshman guard out of Mason, Texas. Nominated for Texas small school female athlete of the year by Scorebooklive.com
  • Claire Graham, 5’9 freshman guard out of Tuscola, Texas. Played at Jim Ned, 25 minutes from ACU, and led the Indians to a 33-2 record last year.  
  • Brooke Jessen, 6’1 sophomore forward transfer from UTRGV. Played in 31 games for the Vaqueros scoring 14 on 5-7 shooting to knock out ACU in the WAC tournament. 
  • Raycheal Harjo, 6’3 sophomore forward transfer from UCF, a top 25 program. Did not see action for the Golden Knights but scored over 1,000 points in high school averaging under 17 points and nine rebounds per game. 

Goodenough added size and depth to her roster this offseason with a lot of uncertainty about how this team will gel heading into the season. You can always expect threes and layups from Goodenough’s teams, and if these newcomers buy into that system, ACU will be a threat in WAC play.

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