Nov. 5, 2013
NEW ORLEANS - When the Tulane women's basketball team takes the court for the 2013-14 season, it will be a year marked by two monumental occasions.
First off, the Green Wave will be playing their final campaign as a member of Conference USA. A charter member of the league for the 1995-96 season, Tulane will be leaving for the American Athletic Conference in all sports starting in 2014-15. Over the previous 19 years, Tulane has a league-best 377 wins, including a 170-106 mark in conference play, since C-USA's inception. In addition, the Green Wave have five regular-season conference titles and four tournament championships - both high-water marks in league history.
In addition, the upcoming season marks the 20th under the direction of head coach Lisa Stockton. With an overall mark of 396-193 since arriving on campus for the 1994-95 season, the league's matriarch has almost twice as many wins as anyone in Tulane women's basketball history and her student-athletes dominated the Green Wave record book.
"I think that it's really special, and it will probably hit me more as we go into the school year," Stockton said of her longstanding position with the program. "To be part of one institution and have so many of our alums, the people I recruited 20 years ago and see what they're doing now, it's really kind of a reflection of what we've been able to do here.
"It's interesting, this being our last year in Conference USA. I've been a part of Conference USA except for one year with the Metro. It really is a transition into the next phase of Tulane athletics. I'm excited about it. I'm excited about finishing really strong in Conference-USA, but we're excited about our challenges coming up, and we're ready to elevate the program to meet them."
And while the Green Wave are riding the crest of four consecutive seasons with 20-plus wins, the current roster is without a senior scholarship student-athlete. Tulane will have to find a way to replace graduated seniors Olivia Grayson, Janique Kautsky, Brittany McDonald and Tyria Snow, who all were major factors in the Green Wave posting a cumulative record of 96-38 over the last four seasons and earn trips to the postseason each year.
Headlining the list of returners is a quintet of rising juniors as Danielle Blagg, Tiffany Dale, Adesuwa Ebomwonyi, Jamie Kaplan and Katye Magee have all seen extensive action over the last two seasons and combined to account for 49 percent of the blocks, 47 percent of the rebounds, 41 percent of both the points and assists, and 36 percent of the steals the team tallied a year ago. Tulane also welcomes back the talents of rising sophomores Chinwe Duru and Tierra Jones, along with Morgan Rogers - who redshirted as a true freshman during the 2012-13 season - and senior Brooke Blankenship - two-year letterwinner who did not play last year.
"I think the exciting thing when you look at our team is looking at our junior class and the impact they've had on this program already," Stockton said. "I don't know if I've ever had a junior class that has as many minutes as those players have. So they'll really be the mainstay of what we do this year. But, I think the freshmen will come in, and really add to that and contribute right away."
Tulane also adds a trio of newcomers for the upcoming year, as Paije Hall, Courtnie Latham and Leslie Vorpahl signed National Letters of Intent last fall to suit up for the Green Wave as true freshmen in 2013-14.
Each member of the trio comes with armfuls of honors from the prep level as well as helping their respective high schools achieve success as a team. Hall, Latham and Vorpahl helped their prep programs post a combined 314-60 overall record with 12 trips to the playoffs. In addition, the three new faces each come from an athletic background. Hall's father, Carl, and uncle, Charlie, played football at Tulane and were drafted by NFL franchises and Vorpahl's father, Donnie, played college football at Texas Lutheran. Latham's grandfather, Cliff Johnson, and uncle, Mike Eastler, both played Major League Baseball, and her uncle, Vince Young, was an All-American quarterback at Texas before embarking on a six-year NFL career.
"I love the energy and just the basketball knowledge that these three (freshmen) come in with," Stockton added. "They're all fundamental and bring something different. We recruited them to come here and really make an impact, and I really think they can. I think when players come in and they've had both individual and team success, they bring that mentality to your program. One thing that we've been fortunate about here is to bring those kinds of players into our program, and continue that mindset along to the program here at Tulane."
One of the Green Wave's key returning starters comes at the point guard position where Jamie Kaplan is coming off a break-out sophomore campaign when she handed out a team-leading 145 assists while starting 25 of the team's 33 games a year ago.
She led Conference USA with a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio and third with 4.4 assists per game, numbers that sat Kaplan 30th and 85th in the NCAA, respectively. Kaplan had six seven-assist performances to go with six double-figure scoring outings and five multiple-steal contests.
Expected to provide depth at the position will be true freshman Leslie Vorpahl, who joins the team from San Antonio, Texas, and Churchill High where she claimed first-team All-District 26-5A and San Antonio Express-News All-Area, TABC All-Region 4 Class 5A honoree for three straight years. She earned TABC All-State recognition and was tabbed San Antonio Express-News Player of the Year as both a junior and senior while averaging 18.7 points, 4.6 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in her final prep season.
"Obviously we have someone who's played a lot with Jamie Kaplan, who has really been in there a lot and in those tight games," Stockton said. "Just being in there, having to execute and the end of the game when being pressured and those kinds of things, it's nice having someone back with respect to that, especially at the point guard position.
"Leslie was our No. 1 choice at the point guard position while recruiting last year, and we got her. I think she's skilled, she's a very good shooter and she's going to be very competitive in that position and play really well."
Headlining the list of wing players for the Green Wave is junior Danielle Blagg, who claimed C-USA Freshman of the Year honors as a rookie and second-team all-league recognition last season. In just two seasons to date, Blagg already sits 10th in Tulane career history with 118 3-pointers and 19th with 34 blocked shots.
Last season, she paced the Wave with 64 treys and a .350 3-point field goal percentage while sitting second with 314 points, third with 125 rebounds, and fifth in both assists and steals with 20 and 26, respectively.
"I think it's going to be a break out year for her," Stockton said of Blagg. "That's a lot to say because she's had a great career to this point. I think where Danielle has really improved is her all-around game. We all know that she can shoot, but I think her ball handling and her ability to attack the basket has really improved, and you're going to see a different kind of player with Danielle."
Ebomwonyi has been a solid rebounder in her two collegiate seasons so far and added a long-range jumper as a sophomore last season when she connected on 31.0 percent of her shots from beyond the 3-point arc. She was fourth on the team in rebounding with 119 in 2012-13 while adding 4.2 points per outing to go with 19 steals, 18 assists and 10 blocked shots.
Magee enters the year averaging 2.1 points per game through 45 career contests, but that came while battling back to overcome a knee injury which robbed her of her true freshman campaign of 2010-11. Fully healthy and following a summer of hard work, Stockton expects Magee to be a larger factor in the upcoming season.
Latham, meanwhile, joins the Tulane program via Clear Spring High School in Houston where she was a three-star recruit, received a 90 scout grade and was tabbed the No. 44 shooting guard in the nation by ESPN.com. As a senior last year, she averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per game en route to earning first-team all-state, all-district and All-Greater Houston honors.
"Adesuwa is going to play the three and four this year, so she's going to play the wing and the post," Stockton said. "She's spent a lot of time out there. We know she can shoot. It's just a matter of her guard skills. I think Katye is going to be a great outside shooter for us. The thing that's nice about her is that she's got some size. You've got a bigger guard out there that can really shoot. And, she spent a lot of time in the gym this summer, so I think you'll see a different player with her.
"And we've also got Courtney Latham, who I think is going to be a really good player here. She's really athletic and long, and is a tremendous passer. These players are going to have to rotate quite a bit, but I do think we have some experience in that core group."
Tulane returns three veterans in the front court as junior Tiffany Dale joins sophomores Chinwe Duru and Tierra Jones on the list of experienced players. The Wave also welcome back Morgan Rogers, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, and bring in the talent of true freshman Paije Hall.
Dale led the team with a .505 field goal percentage, 219 rebounds and 44 blocked shots a year ago despite playing somewhat out of position in the low post. She was also third on the squad with 39 steals and fourth with 251 points while posting nine double-digit scoring games, eight double-figure rebound outings, 10 multiple-steal contests and four double-doubles.
Duru played in 32 games last year as a true freshman and finished second on the team with 18 blocked shots. Along the way, she had three double-figure scoring contests and had four-plus rebounds on six occasions. Jones, meanwhile, saw her rookie campaign cut short with injuries, but showed flashes of her high-energy style of play during her 19 games. During her time on the court, Jones had five or more rebounds five times while provided lock-down defensive effort. Also back is walk-on senior Brooke Blankenship, who is back on the roster after sitting out last season.
Prior to her arrival at Tulane, Rogers averaged a double-double as a three-year prep standout at Loyola Prep in Shreveport, La.. She set school records with a .534 field goal percentage and 291 blocked shots, was an all-district selection each season and claimed State 3A MVP honors as a senior in 2011-12.
Hall comes to Tulane from St. Thomas More High in Lafayette, La., where she claimed first-team all-state honors from the Louisiana High School Basketball Coaches Association and honorable-mention all-state recognition from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association as a senior. She was selected to play in the 2013 LHSCA All-Star Game and earned all-district honors in each of her final three prep seasons.
"I think we have some options there," Stockton said of her frontcourt. At the four spot, we have Tierra and Tiffany Dale who can rotate in there. I think they're very athletic and can do a lot of things. We have some really good rebounding at that position and we've got some players that can guard people, rebound and score. "Obviously, Tiffany started a lot for us at the five last year. We're hoping that she won't have to play that position as much this year. I think we have some good options in those positions, and also some experience."
Sixteen home games in Devlin Fieldhouse and 13 potential contests against teams that made the postseason a year ago highlight the 2013-14 Tulane University women's basketball schedule.
In addition to league staples East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulsa, UAB and UTEP, the Green Wave will welcome Charlotte - which was a member of C-USA from 1995-2005 - Florida Atlantic (FAU), Florida International (FIU), Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) to the league this season.
Of those teams, seven made the postseason a year ago. Middle Tennessee, which won the Sun Belt Conference in 2012-13, and Tulsa made the NCAA Tournament while Charlotte, East Carolina, FIU, Old Dominion and UAB joined the Green Wave among the 64 teams selected to participate in the WNIT.
"I think that it's going to be a year where there are so many new teams that nobody knows each other very well," Stockton said. "You've got UTEP, Rice, and people like that we know well, but everyone else we only play them once, and have one shot at them. It's almost like a non-conference game when you go and play them once. It's one of those things that's going to really challenge us as a staff to be ready for the one game. It's going to be very competitive. It all depends on who plays who where and how the schedule falls out towards the end."
The 2013-14 schedule also features a game against NCAA Tournament participant LSU, and contests against WNIT squads North Carolina State and Auburn as well as a potential match-up against Indiana State in day two of the 2013 Tulane/DoubleTree Classic in Devlin Fieldhouse. The Green Wave will also face Women's Basketball Invitation teams McNeese State and Saint Francis.
The game against Saint Francis is the Green Wave's second game in the Florida Gulf Coast Tournament, where Tulane will also face Virginia. The Wave will host a tournament of its own as Devlin Fieldhouse will be the sight of the 18th Annual Tulane/DoubleTree Classic from Dec. 28-29 as Tulane will open the event with a showdown against Northeastern and will face either Indiana State or Northwestern the following day.
The Green Wave open the 2013-14 season with three-straight home games as Tulane will play host to in-state rivals New Orleans, McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana. Tulane's other non-conference home games are against Ole Miss, Loyola-New Orleans and LSU while playing a non-conference outing at UNC-Wilmington.
Tulane opens the C-USA portion of the schedule on Jan. 8 at Marshall and will also play road league games at Old Dominion, at Charlotte, at Rice, at UTSA, at FAU, at UAB and at Southern Miss. The Green Wave play their first conference home game on Jan. 15 against East Carolina and will also host league foes Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, UTEP, North Texas, FIU and Middle Tennessee.
The 2013 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship is slated for March 11-15 in El Paso, Texas, and the winner of the tournament will receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"This is a new team," Stockton concluded. "Although we're returning quite a bit, I think every year is a new challenge, and it's about establishing roles. We have a challenging non-conference schedule, and we'll play a lot of ACC, SEC, Big 10 teams, so we've got some good opponents on there. We've got to be ready to take on those bigger teams, and be ready to play well against them. Those are huge games for us.
"In the conference, it's up in the air. We challenged our team over how are we going to leave Conference USA. They will be the last Tulane team to ever play in there, and we're having them establish the goals. I think it'd be nice to get to write your own story. We've been very successful. We've won a lot of championships in this league. It would be nice to go out as champions."