Women’s basketball looks to make noise in ACC

Sophomore guard Tonie Morgan makes her entrance at the Hoops and Hip Hop event earlier this year. Morgan was a force for opposing teams last season and looks to continue her success. // Photo by Tyler Parker Student Publications

Entering the ACC tournament as a no. 14 seed, getting out-rebounded by 20 boards and suffering a narrow first-round exit against a beatable Boston College team certainly was not the season ending that the 2022-23 Jackets envisioned. At a 13-17 record, they barely resembled the 2021-22 squad that ranked sixth in the ACC and made a run to the ACC quarterfinals and the NCAA March Madness tournament.

The team also lost key talent in former guards Cameron Swartz and Bianca Jackson, as well as center Nerea Hermosa. All three played in thirty games for the Jackets — Swartz and Jackson as starters — and made huge contributions during their minutes. Jackson’s 37.7 percentage from three-point range comfortably led the team while Swartz was the only Jacket to average double-digit points at 12.7 points per game. Hermosa’s defensive rebounding was critical to keeping opposing offenses from easy layups and shots within the key. Her size also will be missed on a Jackets offense that now only has one center — freshman Ariadna Termis.

Despite their losses, the Jackets are poised to rebound this season with a lineup featuring an intriguing youth movement, two critical transfers and clear vision for the type of team they want to be. At the ACC Tip-Off media event in late October, head coach Nell Fortner alluded to “pushing the pace better” and the intriguing versatility in the Jackets’ lineup.

Fortner’s desire for an uptempo pace starts with sophomore guard Tonie Morgan. As a freshman in 2022-23, she made the ACC All-Freshman team, led the Jackets in total assists and averaged the second most points with 9.8. Furthermore, her sophomore backcourt partner, guard Kara Dunn, and sophomore forward Kayla Black- shear also showed potential in their freshman seasons. Although Dunn missed the end of last sea- son with injury, her 42.9 shooting percentage from the field was the second-highest on the team, and she earned a starting role in the last fourteen games. She is also a good defender, recording 22 steals. Blackshear’s presence in the frontcourt will also be critical on both sides of the ball. She led the Jackets in rebounds per game, and Fortner has noted the versatility that she brings to the lineup.

Outside of their young trio, the Jackets also added talent through the transfer portal, landing senior guard Sydney Johnson from Boston University and fifth-year guard Caitlyn Wilson from Cincinnati. Even without factoring in the departure of Jackson’s shooting, the Jackets already struggled from the field and the arc. They averaged the second-fewest points per game in the ACC and a paltry 27.0% from three-point range. This speaks to a lack of floor spacing and shot-making talent. Fortunately, Johnson has the potential to adequately replace some of the shooting vacated by Jackson’s departure. Fresh off a season shooting a career-best 40.2% from three-point range, it seems that her best basketball could be ahead of her. She starred in the Patriot League, averaging 12.0 points on 40% shooting from the field across her four years as an Eagle. Wilson also offers floor-stretching upside, ranking sixth in Cincinnati history in made three-pointers. The combination of Johnson and Wilson offers good spacing for Morgan, Dunn and Blackshear to operate — both are credible threats behind the arc and will force defenses to close out their shot attempts. The newcomers will provide many opportunities.

The Jackets have several nice rotation pieces with complementary skill sets. Senior guard Avyonce Carter’s 31.0% shooting from three-point range was second on the team, but she likely will be able to get even more quality looks with the additions of Johnson and Wilson in conjunction with improved playmaking from Morgan. At any given time, the size of the Tech frontcourt — bigs like freshman Jada Bediako and fifth-year Aixa Wone Aranaz — should be an imposing defensive matchup for any opposing team. Freshman

D’Asia Thomas-Harris has the potential to seamlessly step into the team’s swingman role. Fans should look for freshman guard Rusne Augustinaite to make an impact despite her age. The 6’0 shooter from Lithuania has received praise for her intensity, shooting prowess and attitude as an energetic scorer for the team.

At the moment, the Jackets are the ACC’s resident youth movement. While there will undoubtedly be growing pains, the potential of Morgan, Dunn and Blackshear as the future nucleus of the team is undeniable. Bringing in veteran guards like Johnson and Wilson to address the shooting woes that affected last year is a welcome move and could pay major dividends for the Jackets’ offensive ranks. The team is still short on true playmakers, but it would not be surprising if one of the team’s many young guards emerged as an excellent secondary playmaker behind Morgan. They open the season at home in McCamish Pavilion against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers on Monday, Nov. 6 at 11 a.m.