Marquette embarks on their first season in over two decades without Terri Mitchell on the bench in one role or another this Saturday when they take on UW-Green Bay at the McGuire Center. To get you ready for the first season with Carolyn Kieger at the rudder, we'll take a look at Marquette's returning players today, and then get you introduced to the newcomers tomorrow.
As is the case with the men's Player Previews, we'll take these in the order of average minutes played during the 2013-14 season.
The senior forward from Lakeville, Minnesota is the closest thing that Marquette has to a returning starter. No player on last year's roster started all 33 games, but Ojulu got the nod in 32 of them.
For the past three seasons, Ojulu's been riding shotgun along side Katherine Plouffe in the front court. This has led to less than exciting statistics, as she's never averaged more than 8.3 points per game, which she managed in her freshman campaign, and never more than five rebounds per game, which she contributed last year. This season, Ojulu's going to be called on to carry a significant chunk of the load for the Golden Eagles. She's one of the two most experienced players on the roster, and with a very young backcourt, Marquette will need all the performance Ojulu can muster night in and night out.
After two seasons of starting every game and averaging more than 11 points per game, Arlesia Morse was relegated to a bench role last season by head coach Terri Mitchell. While her minutes were down, her scoring wasn't (11.5 points per game) and neither was her shooting. After never cracking 37% from the floor, Morse connected on 43% of her shots last season, including a career high 35.8% behind the three point arc.
Morse enters 2014-15 as Marquette only tested scoring option. She briefly flirted with the idea of leaving Marquette when Mitchell was relieved of duties, but she has renewed enthusiasm under new head coach Carolyn Kieger. As she told MLive.com's Eric Woodyard this summer, Kieger expects Morse to thrive in her system, but Morse will have to attack the rim more, instead of firing from distance as she usually had in the past for Marquette.
The third of four returning seniors on the squad, Bigica's role in the past has been as the Swiss Army Knife. The 5'10" Romanian does a little bit of everything for Marquette, but has never really excelled in any one department. As her minutes have increased each season, so have her stats, up to five points, three rebounds, and two assists as a junior. At times, Bigica looks like the most fundamentally sound Golden Eagle, yet at other times, she's the player most prone to let her enthusiastic instincts take over and make a bad decision. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the team's exhibition game, where Bigica fouled out trying to draw a charge 60 feet from the basket with the score tied at 69 with 96 seconds left. Not only was it a goofball play, it actually caused assistant coach Scott Merritt to headbutt his clipboard in frustration.
Chelsie Butler and Lauren Tibbs
I'm pairing these two together because they're so similar as players. Their career stats are essentially the same, with the exception being that Tibbs is a redshirt junior after missing her first year on campus due to injury. They both show flashes of brilliance in the post, with Butler clearing 6'5" on the tape measure and Tibbs just an inch behind her.
Yet something seems to be missing from both of their games. It's not effort, to be certain, as they always look to be working on the court. They both struggle with ball possession at times (officially they were both under a turnover a game last season), and both would benefit from being able to find about four inches of vertical leap ability. Combined, they provide a unique size aspect for the Golden Eagles, as they're almost interchangeable on the floor and Marquette wouldn't lose any height or size when one leaves for the other. By default, they're amongst the most experienced players on the team, as the roster can be divided between "players that saw the floor last year" and "players that didn't," but both women will have to do their part to help lift MU this season.
Moment of honesty here: because she played so infrequently last season (11 appearances, less than four minutes per game), I didn't realize that McKayla Yentz stands 6'1" tall. That's uniquely tall for a women's basketball player that's listed as a guard, but she never got a chance to get on the floor for Terri Mitchell.
Yentz was a three year captain at Sun Prairie (WI), where she led the team to the regional finals in the spring of 2013. She averaged 20 points and 8.7 rebounds during her senior season and was a candidate for Miss Basketball, as well as Big 8 Conference Player of the Year. Can she bounce back from a non-existent freshman campaign and star for Carolyn Kieger? That remains to be seen, as Yentz was held out of the exhibition loss to Lewis for rest purposes.
While Yentz dressed and never played, JeTaun Rouse had an even worse first year at Marquette. She suffered a season ending leg injury in pre-season practice and as of right now, is still not cleared to return to action.
Rouse scored over 2,000 points in her prep career at Marist (IL), and was a nominee for the girls' McDonald's All-American game. She was a four year letter winner at Marist, leading them to three regional titles and a sectional title in her time there. Can she get healthy and get back to that form after a year off the court? We shall have to wait and see.