Sports, Winter, Women's Basketball

Defying Expectations: 2022–23 Women’s Basketball Preview

On the precipice of qualifying for its first NCAA Tournament since 2006, Boston College women’s basketball’s 2021–22 season instead ended with a series of gut punches. 

First, BC suffered a narrow first-round ACC Tournament loss to Florida State—leaving the Eagles one spot away from going dancing. 

Then came an upset loss to Columbia in the third round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT)

And after all that, BC lost three starters to the transfer portal, including its two leading scorers Cameron Swartz and Taylor Soule. 

Despite these setbacks, however, BC is determined to make the 2022–23 campaign more than just a rebuilding year according to sophomore center Maria Gakdeng. 

“I feel like we have a chip on our shoulder this year,” Gakdeng said. “Even those who weren’t on the team last year—I feel like we all have that sense of urgency.”

In losing all five seniors—all of whom had another year of eligibility—head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s squad lost its biggest strength: experience. After fielding a roster filled with seniors last year, this year’s team features none. 

A deep, guard-heavy freshman class—headlined by 2021–22 Gatorade Massachusetts Girls Basketball Player of the Year Taina Mair—will look to replace the production of those five seniors. 

Mair will be tasked with running the point from day one—a responsibility that Bernabei-McNamee said she believes the freshman is prepared to handle. 

“[Mair’s] gonna have to—as a freshman—come in and really run the point guard position for us,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “That’s a lot to ask of her, but I know that she’s ready for that.”

The lone center in her class, 6-foot-5 freshman Ally Carman will look to earn her way into the rotation, especially given the team’s thin frontcourt depth. 

Guard T’Yana Todd brings international experience to this freshman class, having led Team Canada to a second-place finish in this past summer’s FIBA Under-18 Women’s Americas Championship. Todd’s commitment marked a major recruiting win for Bernabei-McNamee, as the IMG Academy product picked BC over perennial championship contenders Connecticut and Louisville. 

Guards Ava McGee and Kayla Lezama round out this freshman unit, one that Bernabei-McNamee said she has relished coaching thus far. 

“[The freshmen] are just so excited to be, one, representing Boston College, but two, kind of laying everything on the line,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “And they’ve really bought into the sisterhood that we have as a program.”

Though BC returns a trio of juniors, the play of its sophomore class will be key to its success this season. 

Ally VanTimmeren, who knocked down 3-pointers at a 30 percent clip last season, is the Eagles’ most effective returning long-range shooter. VanTimmeren delivered in big moments last season, most notably with a clutch, game-tying layup against then-No. 5 NC State

Both ends of the floor will run through Gakdeng, who burst onto the scene a season ago by establishing herself as one of the conference’s premier shot-blockers. Averaging 8.9 points and 6.3 rebounds as a freshman, the 6-foot-3 center will seek to elevate her production, all while shouldering an increased leadership responsibility. 

“I think one of my responsibilities is to lead, whether it’s by example or through talking to my teammates,” Gakdeng said.

Bernabei-McNamee will lean on her two most experienced returners—juniors JoJo Lacey and Kaylah Ivey—to steady the ship when the treacherous ACC waters inevitably get choppy. 

Junior Dontavia Waggoner took advantage of an expanded postseason role, emerging as a bright spot for BC during its shorter-than-expected NIT run. Look for Waggoner to build off that performance in the coming season. 

The Eagles’ schedule, though filled with obstacles, provides plenty of opportunities to prove preseason predictions wrong. 

The season begins with a pair of regional matchups against UMass Lowell and Harvard. A challenge will present itself right away, as No. 14 Ohio State visits Conte Forum on Nov. 13—a critical measuring stick for this young BC team. 

BC takes on Rutgers in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 30. The Eagles represented their conference well in last year’s Challenge, clobbering Penn State 86–69.

Conference play opens against No. 13 Virginia Tech on Dec. 7, when BC will welcome Soule back to Chestnut Hill. The star forward joined the Hokies this offseason after donning the maroon and gold for four years. 

The Eagles then ring in the new year with back-to-back road bouts against No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 10 NC State. 

In a Jan. 8 matchup that many returning players likely have circled on their calendars, BC will look to avenge its first-round ACC Tournament exit against Florida State.

BC concludes its season on Feb. 26, facing a Wake Forest team predicted to finish second to last in the ACC. 

“Nobody’s really talking about us,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “When it comes to the ACC, we’re not really in the talks of being one of their better programs. So I think all of that gives us that little extra motivation and chip on our shoulder.”

November 6, 2022