#33 West Virginia Women's Basketball Preview

West Virginia Mountaineers

Overall Rank: #33
Conference Rank: #9 Big East Conference
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Youth will be served in Morgantown this winter as the West Virginia Mountaineer women’s basketball has just one senior on the roster but with a great recruiting class coming in. With an unrelenting commitment to defense as in 2010-11 when the Mountaineers limited the opposition to 53.7 ppg. The Mountaineers will be looking to reload this season in a hurry in the ultracompetitive Big East Conference. Fortunately, they got a jump start on it with ten extra days of practice in preparation for the season by taking a tour of France and Italy and getting invaluable playing time for such a young squad.

2010-11: 24-10, 8-8
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Mike Carey (203-118 at West Virginia, 491-219 overall)

Who’s out:
The team must replace Liz Repella, a Capital One Academic First team all-American the past two seasons, and her leadership along with departed seniors Madina Ali, Korinne Campbell, Vanessa House and Sarah Miles. This senior class propelled West Virginia to 53 victories in the past two seasons and their highest ranking at number 6 in the AP Poll. Thus their impact will be very difficult to replace on and off of the court.

Who’s In:
Coach Mike Carey and his staff brought in two ESPN HoopGurlz Top 100 recruits in point guard Linda Stepney out of Lake Taylor, Virginia and Averee Fields, who projects to be a great swing player up front as she plays in the post or can step out and hit the mid-range 15 foot jumper. Also look for Christal Caldwell, a 5-9 transfer from Florida, to make an impact this season after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. She hails from Florida Crystal Leary where she was a teammate of Stepney’s at Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Virginia and is another top 100 recruit that will provide strength at forward for West Virginia.

Who to Watch:
Who will step up from the small core of veteran players and provide scoring and defensive leadership? The leading candidates are Asya Bussie down low and Natalie Burton, the Australian, who brings a steady work ethic to the table every day. Ayana Dunning has stepped up her game and is in better physical shape and will help the West Virginia squad down in the post. She will complement Bussie and make life difficult for opposing teams to score down in the low blocks. Linda Stepney is recovering from a stress fracture and, when healthy, will bring a definite play making spark and ability to run the point guard position that is sorely needed after the graduation of Sarah Miles who led the Big East in assists last season. Christal Caldwell has emerged early on as a scoring leader during the Europe trip. Thus, her continued development is going to be very critical to West Virginia getting out of the blocks to a fast start in 2011-12.

Final Projection:
West Virginia, under Coach Mike Carey, has built a strong tradition of consistency in the rugged Big East Conference. The non-conference schedule is very conducive to getting off to a strong start.  A neutral site game in Northridge, California against UCLA will be a good litmus test for the Mountaineers before getting into Big East play. Replacing Repella won’t be an easy task but if Stepney lives up to the recruiting hype and stabilizes things in the backcourt,  look for the Mountaineers to peak towards February and March and secure a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Christal Caldwell, Redshirt Sophomore, Guard, DNP last season
Brooke Hampton, Sophomore, Guard, 2.4 points per game
Averee Fields, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Crystal Leary, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Asya Bussie, Junior, Center, 8.2 points per game