Welcome to part two of our Marquette Golden Eagles women’s basketball season preview. We’ve already talked about the two freshmen on the roster, so if you missed that one, go check it out. Head coach Carolyn Kieger seems to expect at least a little something from both women this season, so you’re going to want to know a little bit about what they bring to the squad.
As for this entry..... hooooooboy, it’s going to be a little bit on the long side. Marquette has 11 players returning from last season, and we’re going to get to all of them here. It’s going to be divided by class, and we’ll save MU’s power packed junior class for last.
Here we go!
THE REDSHIRT FRESHMAN
Ok, so, technically, Lauren Van Kleunen (#42; 6’2”; Mason, OH) isn’t “returning,” per se. She was on the roster last year, but sat out the entire season. Van Kleunen never even dressed for a game, so it may have just been a case of the coaching staff doing a little balancing of the recruiting classes by shifting her down one year.
Van Kleunen was a multi-dimensional player at Mason High School, averaging 16 points, nine rebounds, two steals, and two blocks as a junior, and then following that up with a 13/7/2/1 line as a senior. She propelled Mason to a District title game as a junior and then all the way to the state title game as a senior. Van Kleunen had a double-double in that game, but her team ended up with a nine point loss.
One thing we can say for certain is that the year on the bench didn’t hurt Van Kleunen’s confidence in her game. In the Marquette Madness scrimmage, she looked every bit of a player who believes that she belongs on the court with MU’s star players and wasn’t afraid to insert herself into the attacking style that Kieger wants the team to play. She’s comfortable shooting from distance, and she can get out and run with the ball in her possession as well, something that will end up paying off big time for the Golden Eagles. It remains to be seen how much LVK will end up playing, after all, the Madness scrimmage allows 10 players on the court at a time, but if she can defend her position and maintain that relentless energy, she’ll earn her fair share of minutes.
MU has two second year players on the active roster, one of whom seems to be perfectly suited for an available role on the team. Last season, Isabelle Spingola saw action in 27 of MU’s 33 games, averaging just over six minutes per appearance. Her stat line of 2.4 points, 0.6 rebounds, and just four assists the entire season is not anything to write home about, of course. However, even in her limited action, she knocked down 15 of her 40 long range attempts, good enough for 37.5%. Now, it’s hard to say how she’ll adapt to more playing time, but it seems almost too obvious for Spingola to slip right into the shooter role that McKayla Yentz left vacant after her graduation. They’re about the same size — Yentz was 6’1”, Spingola is 6-foot even — and the Whitney Young product and Chicago native has a track record of playing on championship teams and not worrying about being the star player. Spingola will need to ramp up her defense, as someone is going to have to start taking all of those charges that Yentz drew, but that’s just a matter of hustle and playing smart.
Altia Anderson is MU’s other sophomore, and she had a much quieter freshman campaign. She played in just 20 games, and only averaged 4.5 minutes in those contests. She didn’t score much and she didn’t rebound much, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Anderson’s effort level was always running high, and that will end up paying dividends for her going forward. The 6’2” Delaware native averaged a double-double as a senior in high school, so she has the knack to be able to provide the Golden Eagles with the rebounding presence that they could use. As is the case with Spingola, she’ll need to make sure she’s providing Kieger with something on defense to make sure she’s getting on the court regularly.
This is Carolyn Kieger’s fourth season in charge at Marquette, and Shantelle Valentine is the last remaining Terri Mitchell recruit on the roster. The 6’3” Canadian center saw her playing time peak as a sophomore, but as the team exploded forward last season with their breakneck pace, Valentine’s minutes were cut in half. She’s a quality performer, playing in every single MU game of her career, and averaging just over three points and three rebounds. Valentine is a 49% career shooter, and she keeps it simple on the offensive end: Get it in close, go up strong, put it in. You know what you’re getting with Shantelle Valentine, and that’s good. The question is what her role is if Marquette wants to play even faster than they did last season. It would seem that her playing time was hampered merely by her footspeed, and not to say that she’s slow, but she’s just not as fast as her compatriots.
Now we get to work here.
We have to start with Olivia Moskari and Sandra Dahling. Marquette’s two European players are largely overlooked when talking about the star power of the recruiting class. This is, however, mostly fair. Both women were relegated to deep bench roles as freshmen, although Moskari did average nine minutes a game when she did play. Dahling played a little less as a sophomore than she did as a freshman, and Moskari’s sophomore campaign was cut short by a knee injury after just eight appearances. She appears to be back to 100% participation, at least from the Marquette Madness scrimmage and pictures coming from practice, but I think it’s safe to say that with the Marquette bench operating at a deeper than ever level, we won’t see all that much from either woman this season.
That brings us to the five core players on the team, and we’re going to have to start with Allazia Blockton. The question then becomes where do we start with her? Is it the fact that she led the Big East in scoring last season? Is it that she was the unanimous choice as preseason Big East Player of the Year this season? Is it that she’s already scored 1,000 career points and with two full seasons still ahead of her, she’s the 21st best scorer in program history? Or if she has an off year and only scores 500 points, she’ll finish the season with the eighth most points in program history? Or that she only needs 150 rebounds to crack into the top 20 there after grabbing up 198 a year ago? How about that she’s on pace to crash into the top five all time in assists by the time her career is done, too? The power wing from Milwaukee can literally do it all on the court, and she’s only starting to earn the recognition that she deserves.
From there, we can move on to how the other four compliment Blockton nearly perfectly. Two of her classmates were named to the preseason All-Big East Team, one by unanimous vote. That’s Erika Davenport, and to put in terms that the men’s basketball fans out there will understand, she’s the second coming of Davante Gardner. No, she’s never going to devastate you with her moves through the air, but Davenport’s touch off the glass, both in rebounding and laying it up and in, is exquisite. Somehow, regardless of her balance, her shot is going to fall more often than not. While her near double-double average is enough to run roughshod on opponents, Davenport is comfortable out on the break with the rest of the crew.
Natisha Hiedeman is the other all-league teamer on the roster, and she may be the heart and soul of the team. Go check out Ben Steele’s writeup on her and the spirit that she brings to the team. The Green Bay native and her puffball hair the primary drive behind Marquette’s frenetic style. If the clock is stopped, maybe she’ll look like she could use a breather, but if it’s running, so is Hiedeman. Full speed, all the time, with no signs of let up. She’s the one most likely to whip a baseball pass 70 feet down the court for the fast break layup, and she’s the one most likely to drive into the lane and find the cutter that no one else sees for the layup. On top of that, she’s already 12th in program history in three-pointers attempted and 10th in connections from distance. If she has an average year in both categories, Hiedeman will finish her junior season as one of the five best and most prolific shooters in MU history, and if she has a good year..... well, she’s only 81 makes away from Lori Goerlitz’s record.
Also this, which is maybe the most Natisha Hiedeman thing ever:
WOW!— BIG EAST WBB (@BIGEASTWBB) March 8, 2017
Hiedeman ends 1st Q w/ half court shot!! @MarquetteWBB leading @DepaulWBBHoops 25-24...
The AL IS ROCKING!!! Watch on @FS1 pic.twitter.com/ZjmPY2MQdz
We’ve talked about three of the five juniors, and we still haven’t talked about the 2017 Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Yeah, I know, right? The fact that Amani Wilborn was handed that trophy by Commissioner Val Ackerman at the conclusion of the tournament is the most succinct way I can possibly explain to you what it’s like to watch this team play. Think about it: An All-American Honorable Mention player & two all-league performers.... and none of the three were considered to have had the biggest impact on the conference tournament. That went to Wilborn, who came off the bench for Marquette in all three of their games. See what I mean about explaining Kieger’s team perfectly? Wilborn averaged 17.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in the tournament, and let’s be fair to the Milwaukee native: She’s probably not going to do that in the regular season this year. Wilborn went for 10/4/3 across the whole of her sophomore year, so that’s a much more reasonable expectation for her, but that’s how Marquette plays. They have so many weapons at their disposal that sometimes it’s the super sub that wrecks shop for three games and no one is surprised that she did it.
We wrap up our conversation with Danielle King, who is currently the biggest question mark on the team. The 5’5” Chicago native did not participate in the Marquette Madness scrimmage and she was also held out of the open practice before the team held their local media day on November 1st. Two things: First, Kieger and the coaching staff expect King to be able to go on Monday when the team opens the season against New Mexico. Second, even if she’s still hampered, Marquette’s style is well prepared to paper over what they lose without King on the floor. She seized full control of the point guard spot on the floor last season, leading the team in assists, even though Blockton, Hiedeman, and Wilborn all managed to clear 100 helpers each as well. What she lacks in stature, she makes up for in both tenacity and clear verbal control of the team. King might be the least heralded of the five core players, but she might actually be the most important out of the group.