No. 1 Drury got the 2019 DII women's basketball season rolling last weekend at the CCAA Division II Tip-Off Classic. Senior forward Hailey Diestelkamp helped get the Panthers off to a 3-0 start on the young season and is already one of the players to watch for 2019-20.
OPENING WEEKEND: Look back at the CCA DII Tip-Off Classic
With the bulk of DII prepared to open the women's college basketball season Nov. 8, let's take a look at Diestelkamp and some other early contenders for the national player of the year. This list can and will change as the season progresses, but these student-athletes head into the season with lofty expectations.
Ay'Anna Bey, Benedict: Benedict — a 20-win team a year ago — has a lot of buzz and Bey is 100 percent why. The junior forward is coming off a monster season in which she averaged 23.7 points and 12.5 rebounds and it seems like she may just be getting started.
Cassidy Boensch, Grand Valley State: The Lakers were a well-rounded machine in 2019 and Boensch led the way. She led the GLIAC in scoring at 19.6 points per game and rebounding at 11.6. Grand Valley State, a top-10 team entering the season, is poised for a huge year and it starts with its senior center.
Sydni Brandon, Colorado Mesa: The Mavericks improved by eight wins in 2019, winning the RMAC tournament. Brandon — the MVP of that tournament — was a big reason why, leading DII women's basketball in assist-to-turnover ratio with a 3.19 mark. She may not put up the gaudy numbers to win the award, but if the Mavericks improve, she'll be a huge reason why.
Destiny Castro, Chaminade: The senior guard is already the Silverswords all-time leader in scoring average (16.2 points per game) and steals (200). She had her first 20-point per game season in 2019 and averages 7.1 rebounds per game in her career. Chaminade may not be a force in the PacWest, but Castro will be.
Maddi Chitsey, Lubbock Christian: Chitsey is the leading returning scorer and rebounder for the reigning national champs. And Chitsey is a big reason the Lady Chaps are defending champs: She hit the game-tying shot in the final seconds of overtime, forcing the second and deciding overtime period. A big-time player, who thrives for big-time moments, Chitsey is poised for a huge year.
Hailey Diestelkamp, Drury: Diestelkamp already has a player-of-the-year award on her resume, taking home the WBCA honors last season. And what a year it was: she averaged 21.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game to lead the Panthers to a 35-1 season. Diestelkamp has seemingly earned more honors than she's lost basketball games with just eight losses in her three years.
Bethany Franks, Southwestern Oklahoma State: Franks has some big shoes to fill with the departure of one of DII's best in Hailey Tucker as well as Hayden Priddy. The junior forward is capable of a double-double any night on the floor and could shine bright as the new star for last year's national runners-up.
Yazmeen Goo, Alaska Anchorage: Goo has been a staple for the SeaWolves since their championship run way back in 2016. Much like Brandon, she won't put up the big numbers but will be the force leading one of DII women's basketball's most consistent programs of late. She put up her career-best scoring numbers last year.
Savanna Hanson, Azusa Pacific: Hanson — and a healthy Zoe March — are big reasons the Cougars open the season in the top 5. Hanson has been a force in the GNAC for two years, leading the conference in rebounding last season while finishing second with 15.3 points per game. Expect to hear her name a lot this year.
Jessica Harris, Lander: The senior guard is the reigning Peach Belt Conference player of the year and has already had quite the start to the 2019-20 season. She led all scorers with 30 points in Lander's thrilling upset of DI Clemson during the exhibition season. Now, Harris — who led the team in rebounding, assists, and steals — is ready to turn it on in the regular season.
Lexy Hightower, West Texas A&M: Hightower was absent for the Lady Buffs opening weekend in California, and West Texas A&M dropped two of its first three games of the season. That speaks plenty about how important she is to this team. She turned in her best season yet as a junior, winning the Lone Star Conference player of the year in 2019. If she gets healthy, she's one to watch.
Rachel Hinders, Lewis: Someone will have to step up for the Flyers now that Jessica Kelliher is gone, and Hinders may be the most capable. She averaged 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and will be the leader down low for a new-look Lewis squad.
Jodi Johnson, Ashland: Johnson followed up her GLIAC freshman-of-the-year campaign with a WBCA national player-of-the-year season in 2018. As a sophomore. Last year Johnson averaged 18 points and 2.4 steals per game and set a career-high with 7.2 rebounds per game. Alongside Sara Loomis, Johnson will be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Ariel Jones, Shippensburg: The Raiders have just 19 wins the past two seasons, so it's possible you've never heard of Jones. She set the PSAC scoring record in 2018 in a freshman-of-the-year performance, and finished fourth in DII with a 25.6 scoring average. She is an elite scorer and should at the very least be on your radar.
Kayla Marosites, Carson-Newman: Marosites is a double-double machine for the Eagles. She set the program record with 21 last season and averages 13 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in her career. Already earning honors as a member of the All-SAC preseason first-team, Marosites is ready for a big senior finale.
Shareka McNeill, Virginia Union: McNeill has been a dominating force for the Panthers since her freshman season and has only gotten better each year. Last season, she averaged 24.7 points per game to lead the CIAA and could be even better than that with big expectations for Virginia Union once again in 2019-20.
Alexy Mollenhauer, Anderson (SC): The senior guard took home South Atlantic Conference player of the year and tournament MVP honors in 2019. Mollenhauer averaged a double-double with 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. The Trojans were a 30-win team a year ago and another big year from Mollenhauer should see the same results.
Shannon Ryan, Saint Anselm: Ryan has been as consistent as it comes for the Hawks. She's averaged at least 18 points per game in her two seasons with Saint Anselm while averaging at least 10 rebounds per game as well. The Hawks are always a DII tournament threat and their star senior should see them back in it once again.
OPENING DAY UPSET: Cal Poly Pomona downs No. 12 West Texas A&M
Re'Shawna Stone, Glenville State: Points, points, and more points. That's what the Pioneers put up every night and Stone leads the way. Emily Stoller may be the more prolific scorer, but Stone led the team in assists and was second in steals while putting up 17.2 points per game. This team averaged 102.3 points per game a year ago, so Stone will have plenty of eyes on her all year long.
Julianne Sutton, North Georgia: The Nighthawks rattled off 30 wins last season. Sutton led the team in rebounds and blocked shots all while averaging 14.1 points per game. One of the better all-around players in the PBC, Sutton should have North Georgia ultra-competitive once again.
Jaelencia Williams, Union (TN): Jada Smith is probably the best returner, a preseason All-GSC team member already. But Williams could be the game-changer for Union. Here's what we know: the center transferred in from Purdue Fort Wayne where she averaged 9.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while playing just 18.6 minutes per night. She could become a star in a full-time role.