MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (Nov. 10, 2021) – West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey announced the addition of three student-athletes for the 2022-23 season, as Imarianah “Mari” Russell (Reynoldsburg, Ohio/Reynoldsburg High School), Avery “Ace” Strickland (Knoxville, Tenn./Farragut High School) and Yonta Vaughn (District Heights, Md./Bishop McNamara High School) have signed National Letters of Intent.
“I am really excited about this class,” WVU coach Mike Carey said “All three of these players bring great experience and add versatility to our roster. Ace, Mari and Yonta all play for extremely successful high school and travel team programs, and each of them understands what it takes to win at a high level. I can’t wait to coach them and to see what we can accomplish together.”
Imarianah “Mari” Russell | Reynoldsburg, Ohio | Reynoldsburg High School
A 5-foot-11 guard out of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Russell plays for coach Jack Purtell at Reynoldsburg High School and her travel team, Sports City U. Rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, she checks in as the No. 83 player in the class of 2022 by ESPN and is the No. 113 player nationally by All-Star Girls Report. ESPN also rates her as the No. 25 guard in this year’s class.
Russell has been named to Ohio’s all-state basketball team three times in her high-school career, including the 2020-21 all-state first team. She also has been named to the All-Ohio Cardinal Conference (OCC) first team and the all-district team, including two appearances on the first team, each year of high school. For the last two seasons, she has been a member of the Super 12 Ohio All-Star first team and captained the squad as a junior in 2020-21.
A 1,000-point scorer and team captain for Reynoldsburg, Russell was named the team defensive MVP and freshman of the year in 2018-19, the team offensive MVP and her district’s top scorer in 2019-20 and the team MVP in 2020-21.
In the AAU circuit for Sports City U, she was named the “Live at the PAC” and “Midwest Showdown” Player of the Tournament as a junior.
She is the daughter of Hammond III and Natasha Russell. Her brother, Hammond IV, currently plays on the WVU football team.
“I chose WVU because, from the start, they showed me how much they really wanted me, from calls to sending mail to checking up on me and not just for basketball. It was really a love no other school showed me, and on my unofficial visit, I really felt at home.” – Imarianah “Mari” Russell
“Mari is an elite scoring guard that can impact the game on both ends of the floor. She is extremely athletic and is the definition of physical for 40 with how hard she plays the game. I can’t wait to see what we will accomplish together here in Morgantown.” – WVU coach Mike Carey
“WVU is not only getting a tremendous basketball player, they’re getting an incredible person. Mari’s dedication and kindness are what sets her apart from the rest. She’s the first one to the gym and the last to leave. Our staff is really looking forward to having the opportunity to coach her again this year and watch her blossom as we move forward.” – Reynoldsburg HS coach Jack Purtell
Avery “Ace” Strickland | Knoxville, Tenn. | Farragut High School
A 6-foot-1 guard out of Knoxville, Tennessee, Strickland plays for coach Jason Mayfield at Farragut High School and her travel team, TN Flight Silver EYBL. She holds national rankings of No. 101 by All-Star Girls Report and No. 115 by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
Strickland has earned all-district status each year during her high-school career and has participated in the all-district tournament each of the last two seasons. Additionally, she was named all-region as a sophomore in 2019-20. A 2020-21 first-team prep selection by Xtra and 5StarPreps, Strickland was named the Knox News Athlete of the Year and Knox Focus Player of the year a season ago.
She also is a standout on Farragut’s softball team and has been named to the all-district and all-region team each year of high school. Strickland also holds Farragut’s all-time leading batting average and is tied for No. 1 in school history in on-base percentage.
She is the daughter of Anissa Strickland.
“I chose West Virginia because they saw my potential and have supported me these last two years. I have built a great relationship with all of the coaches and trust their plan for me. I’m excited to be a Mountaineer!” – Avery “Ace” Strickland
“Ace is a tough-minded player that can play multiple positions. Her versatility, toughness and ability to shoot and pass the basketball will really help us, and I can’t wait to coach her.” – WVU coach Mike Carey
“Ace is not only a phenomenal athlete and basketball player, but she is an even better kid. Farragut is privileged to have her represent us at WVU, and we have no doubts that she will do that well.” – Farragut HS coach Jason Mayfield
Yonta Vaughn | District Heights, Md. | Bishop McNamara High School
A 5-foot-7 point guard out of District Heights, Maryland, Vaughn plays for coach Frank Oliver at Bishop McNamara High School and her travel team, Team Takeover Nike EYBL. Rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, she checks in as the No. 49 player in the class of 2022 by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, while All-Star Girls Report rates her at No. 66 nationally and ESPN ranks her as the No. 72 player in the country. Additionally, Vaughn is rated as the No. 16 point guard in this year’s class by ESPN.
A 2020 Washington Post All-Met Honorable Mention selection, Vaughn was named to the All-Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) second team and helped win Bishop McNamara the 2020 WCAC Championship in 2020.
Vaughn and Team Takeover claimed the Boo Williams Christmas Tournament championship in 2019, while she also was named the “She Got Game” MVP in Dallas, Texas, that same year. Additionally, Vaughn participated in the John Lucas Enterprises Top 160 camp, one of the most well-known invitational camps for girls’ basketball players in the country.
She is the daughter of Tonya Bazemore.
“The reason I chose WVU is because they showed a lot of love towards my family and I and also recruited me incredibly hard. We built a great relationship over the years, which is what I’ve been looking for in a college.’ – Yonta Vaughn
“Yonta is a dynamic, play-making point guard. Her ability to see a play ahead and make everyone on the court better makes her an elite floor general. She is athletic and can score the basketball. Yonta will have a great career here at West Virginia, and I can’t wait to coach her.” – WVU coach Mike Carey
“Yonta Vaughn has been the consummate student-athlete here at Bishop McNamara. An outstanding student in the classroom, she’s been a four-year starter on the court and has been a true, playmaking floor general since she came into our program as a freshman. She’s shown the ability to run any offense and score the ball as needed from all three levels. I know that she’ll be able to contribute right away at the next level, and I’m excited to see her continue to grow and develop at West Virginia.” – Bishop McNamara HS coach Frank Oliver
Press Release: WVU Athletic Department