JoJo Lacey knows the drill. The Douglassville, Pa. native has been a part of Boston College women’s basketball for as long as anyone currently in the program. She said BC is no stranger to being counted out.
“We’re always going to be the underdogs,” the senior guard said. “We’ll always be looked at as the underdogs because we feel like BC’s name hasn’t really been put on the map in a few years.”
BC hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2006, and aside from a pair of decent seasons in 2019–20 and 2021–22 where the Eagles finished 20–12 and 21–12, respectively, BC has been a bottom-dweller in the ACC for the past decade. It has lived in the bottom third of the conference for the majority of the last 15 years and clocks in at No. 13 in the ACC preseason poll this year.
“We all kind of feel like there’s a chip on our shoulders where we’re underdogs,” BC head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, who led the Eagles to a 16–17 record last season, said. “We want to surprise people. We want to play well.”
Bernabei-McNamee’s squad this year has a lot of unproven pieces. The Eagles are without much of their production from last season’s roster, due to the departure of ACC All-Freshman point guard Taina Mair and starting center Maria Gakdeng. Mair and Gakdeng combined to average 22.4 points per game a year ago. Gakdeng herself averaged 11.3 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game and led the program in points, rebounds, and blocks.
Bernabei-McNamee has struggled to retain talented players in recent years—starters Taylor Soule, Cameron Swartz, and Marnelle Garraud all left the program after the 2021–22 season in addition to Mair and Gakdeng this past offseason—but that’s not stopping the sixth-year head coach from expecting big things from her group.
“[This season] really can go as far as I think these women want it to go because I think we’re very talented,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “We have a lot of young players coming in the mix, but we also have finally some seniors and people that know what’s going on.”
A Revamped Offense
One way that Bernabei-McNamee said she is trying to boost BC’s chances of competing in the ACC is with a new offense. In a new era where positionless basketball is becoming more common, BC is trying to use its versatility to its advantage.
“It’s a four-out, one-in, but it’s not like a four-out, one-in where there’s a post player,” Lacey said of the new offense. “We’re all versatile guards. So it’s like a four-out, one-in high post. Like you can drive, you can kick it out to the shooters, you kind of like, everyone has a chance to score at that moment in time.”
Although adapting to a more modern style of play might have to come organically, Bernabei-McNamee said the play style of her players, along with some injuries, forced her hand somewhat in changing up the system.
Junior Ally VanTimmeren, who played in all 33 games last season and averaged 5.7 points, is out for the season with a knee injury, according to Bernabei-McNamee.
“We changed the system to fit the personnel,” Bernabei-McNamee said.
With the absence of VanTimmeren, players like senior 6-foot guard Dontavia Waggoner, who plays bigger than her size, will need to step up on the glass for BC.
“Me personally, I’ve always been like, one to rebound, so I mean, I don’t think that much of my game is changing in the sense that we do have to, we do have Teya [Sidberry], we do have Andrea [Daley]—everybody on our team can rebound,” Waggoner said.
Waggoner led BC in points per game, rebounds per game, and steals per game last season, averaging 13.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.9 steals.
New Pieces in the Mix
On the defensive end, Lacey said she thinks the Eagles might be more fluid even without Gakdeng and Mair. Gakdeng ranked third in the ACC last season in blocks per game with 1.8.
“I feel like when [Mair and Gakdeng] were on the court—no shade against them—but it felt like they had to guard one position or we had to hedge the guards because we couldn’t switch the small guard [Mair] or we couldn’t switch the post player [Gakdeng] because she couldn’t guard,” Lacey said.
Sidberry, a sophomore transfer from Utah, is one player expected to make a big impact on both ends of the court. The 6-foot-1 forward averaged just 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in just 10.8 minutes per game a year ago, but should be a starter for the Eagles.
“She just has a knack for scoring and then she has a knack for making plays happen, whether it be getting a big rebound or a steal on the defensive end,” Bernabei-McNamee said of Sidberry’s game.
Rounding out the Starting Five
Joining Sidberry, Lacey, and Waggoner in the starting lineup are junior Andrea Daley and redshirt junior Kaylah Ivey. Daleyhas made the biggest jump this summer, according to Bernabei-McNamee.
“Andrea Daley is really taking her game to becoming a three-level scorer on the offensive end, and defensively she’s picked up,” Bernabei-McNamee said.
Daley became a solid player for BC last season, bringing grit on the defensive end and a willingness to attack the rim on offense. She averaged 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds, but struggled with her outside shot, shooting just 25.4 percent from behind the arc.
Ivey is a name that many Eagles fans will remember from BC’s 2021–22 squad. The point guard missed all of last season with a knee injury, but she is back for what will now be her fourth season with BC. She will likely begin the season as the team’s starting point guard and will provide a veteran presence.
“Honestly, I feel really excited about the season,” Ivey said. “I mean, I did miss all of last year, and it was tough sitting out, but now I feel 100 percent healthy, getting my knee right, having trust and confidence in my knee, so I feel ready to help my team get wins this year.”
Having Ivey back will be key for a fairly young BC team. One of the young players that will benefit from her tutelage is JaKayla Thompson, Ivey’s presumed backup. The freshman floor general out of Louisville, Ky., is one of the team’s most promising young players, and she will likely grow into a larger role as she gets more experience at the collegiate level.
Another intriguing member of the freshman class is freshman forward Lili Krasovec. It’s unclear what the Budapest, Hungary native’s role will be on the team this season, but her height and wingspan along with her shooting ability—which she showed off at the program’s open practice—will make it tough to keep her off the court.
Sophomore guard T’Yana Todd will be another key rotational piece for BC this year. Todd was one of the Eagles’ best pure shooters in 2022–23, shooting 30.3 percent from three, and should continue to provide a threat from the perimeter.
With a loaded schedule, which includes matchups against ranked opponents like No. 7 Ohio State on Nov. 16, No. 10 Notre Dame on Jan. 11, and No. 8 Virginia Tech on Feb. 11, BC will certainly be tested.
While the Eagles will not be intimidated and will stick to their underdog mentality, according to Bernabei-McNamee and Lacey, just a few conference wins could be in the mix due to their transformed roster. More conference wins than last year could be out of the picture, but BC will likely be right around the same five–ACC victory mark.
“I feel like this year it’s just coming at every game and just being like, ‘Alright, we’re gonna start from the beginning and we’re gonna finish it,’” Lacey said. “I feel like teams should be scared or should not want to play BC because we’re gritty, so I feel like that’s something to look forward to.”