MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Basketball season is right around the corner and the West Virginia women’s basketball team is looking to build off of last season.
During the 2019-20 season, the Mountaineers posted a 17-12 record and were 7-11 in conference play. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the season was cut short and there was no post season.
WVU lost Tynice Martin to graduation, which is a big loss. However, the Mountaineers return several key players from last season’s team, three clutch transfers and some freshman that can help out Mike Carey’s squad.
“I think we are deeper this year in the paint,” Carey said. “We added a junior college player in the paint, Ariel Cummings. We have Blessing (Ejiofor) back. We have Rochelle Norris back. We have Kari (Niblack) back. We have Esmery (Martinez) back. So we are deeper in the paint. Sometimes this year, we will be able to put Esmery out on the perimeter instead of the four position and we’ll have decent size.
“We’ll have more size this year. At the guard position, we have Madisen Smith returning, a two-year starter. We have Kysre (Gondrezick) returning, another starter and then KK (Kirsten) Deans has really looked good. Then we’ve been able to get Jayla (Hemingway) eligible, the transfer from Mississippi State. She’ll help us on the perimeter too. Then we have a couple freshman that I think will be able to contribute also. I think we are going to be deeper in the paint than on the perimeter right now. “
As a freshman, Deans was named to the Big 12 All-Big 12 Rookie Team. In 29 games, she averaged 5.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest.
Gondrezick was the Mountaineers; leading scorer, averaging 15.3 points per game. She was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, a member of the 2019 Cancun Challenge All-Tournament Team and the 2019 Florida Sunshine Classic Most Valuable Player.
The 5-foot-9 senior has worked hard over the offseason and is in top shape.
“Kysre came back in the best shape of her life,” Carey said. She looks really good.”
Smith started in 28 games as a sophomore and averaged 7.0 points and 3.0 assists per game.
During her freshman campaign, Martinez averaged 5.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. She led WVU in rebounds 12 times.
Junior Niblack returns and averaged 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. She was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and a member of the Academic All-Big 12 First Team.
Also, the 6-foot-1 forward was named to the 2019 Florida Sunshine Classic All-Tournament Team. She started in all 29 games.
In her junior year, Ejiofor started 20 games and averaged 2.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Rochelle Norris started nine games as a redshirt freshman last year. She averaged 3.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game and led the team in field-goal percentage, shooting 55.6 percent.
WVU has three transfers that can make an immediate impact. Hemingway and Cummings are both eligible to play. Currently, Jasmine Carson is still awaiting the NCAA’s decision on her eligibility.
“Three of them never even visited here before they signed and came,” Carey said. “That was unique. I probably did a better job recruiting on zoom calls than if they came here. Three of them signed and everything the first day they were on campus is when they came for classes this summer.”
Cummings adds height and is both a scorer and a rebounder. The 6-foot-3 forward averaged 13.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game for Chipola and shot 54.1 percent from the floor in 2019-20 at Chipola Community College.
The junior was named to the 2020 All-Panhandle Conference First Team.
Hemingway transferred from Mississippi State this summer. As a freshman, she played in 24 games for the Bulldogs and averaged 1.6 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting.
Carson transferred from Georgia Tech, where she played in 31 games as a sophomore. The 5-foot-10 guard scored in double-figures 15 times, including a string of eight-straight and she had at least 20 points in three games.
Carson averaged 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest.
Abby Ogle transferred from Hutchinson Community College, where she averaged 11.2 points per game on 56.8 percent shooting during her time with the Blue Dragons.
The Mountaineers added freshman newcomers Jeanna Cunningham and Taziah Jenks.
Because of the pandemic life will be different for the Mountaineers, as it will for everyone in college basketball. The season begins later and is shortened.
Over the summer, WVU had several players test positive for the virus but in recent weeks, everyone has remained healthy and adjusting to the new ways on and off the court.
“They’re getting used to things,” Carey said. “Defensively, it’s going to take a while. Offensively, we tried to add some new stuff. We’re going to try and spread the floor more offensively in a couple more sets. We’ve been working on a lot of new stuff. We play man the majority of the time but we may even try to put a zone in because of not practicing a lot and heading into the season with new players. I don’t play zone. I said we’ll put a zone in. I’ll probably use it two minutes the whole year.”
With everything going on Carey has had to learn more patience over the last seven months.
“I’ve became a lot more patient,” he said. “You have to be very patient this year.”
Cover Photo Credit: WVU Sports