Rise and Fall of DI Women’s Programs in One Year

For the most part, the success and failures of DI women’s programs look more like a roller coaster track than a heartbeat. Programs like Oregon started with a kiddie track before a steep climb began to crack the ranks of the country’s elite. Tennessee stayed smooth and steady for decades under Pat Summit until a quick plunge back to earth. Change from year to year is usually pretty gradual, a few spots difference in conference, usually no more than a handful of games will fall the opposite way from the year before.

But that’s not always the case. Coaching changes, violations, funding and other unforeseen circumstances can make for a quick switch in gears. Sometimes it’s for the better: many times for worse.

I’ve scanned the DI women’s landscape through the first week of February to compare where everyone is in relation to the 2018-2019 season. While some drops or climbs in results may only be temporary and a small spike on their program graph, we are going to try to identify what made these 10 teams leap skid backward in just one year’s time.

All results and info are accurate up to Monday, Feb. 10, 2020 at 5 a.m. E.T.

Slip Down

Grambling State

SWAC

Current overall record: 2-19
Current conference record: 1-9
2018-19 overall: 16-16
2018-19 conference: 12-6
What changed: It’s rare that an elite talent like Shakyla Hill will take her talents to the courts of the SWAC and her absence after graduation was made as apparent as her effect when she was still leading the squad. In back-to-back years, Hill accomplished two quadruple-doubles, the first time this occurred in more than two decades of DI women’s basketball. Her conference leading numbers drove her team to two SWAC tournament bids where she eventually was named the 2018 SWAC tournament MVP. It’s only year three for coach Freddie Murray, and his recruiting classes are just starting to come in and take shape. Only time will tell if another player will come to Grambling and fill the shoes of Hill or if she will stay the anomaly.

UMES

MEAC

Current overall record: 5-16
Current conference record: 2-6
2018-19 overall: 17-14
2018-19 conference: 12-4
What changed: Having started 13 of the 16 players on the roster, UMES is desperate to find chemistry, and health hasn’t played much of a contributing factor. In its last game against Delaware State, UMES gave court time to 14 bodies in the first half alone. The staff at the Shore has remained constant and its climb to the top of the MEAC wasn’t built overnight. Unfortunately, last year brought the breaking point as the team graduated four of its five major contributors and top players in the school’s history. Without the former leadership, a group of predominately role players and underclassmen are scrambling to tread water. The constant rotation of the lineup is showing signs that no one in this group is ready to step up and start stealing back some MEAC wins.

Monmouth

MAAC

Current overall record: 6-16
Current conference record: 3-10
2018-19 overall: 14-17
2018-19 conference: 9-9
What changed: Although Monmouth only finished .500 in the MAAC last season, it has already collected one more conference loss and six fewer wins at the halfway point of the divisional schedule. The staff and team have remained nearly unchanged and with little injury issues, what gives? Well, it may just be part of a gradual up and down pattern for mid-majors. Last season was the best in Monmouth history, yet it only finished fourth in its conference. It was the second season under coach Jody Craig and maybe more of an unexpected plot point than the current slide back to reality.

Mercer

SoCon

Current overall record: 6-18
Current conference record: 3-6
2018-19 overall: 25-8
2018-19 conference: 14-0
What changed: It has been one of the rougher falls in all of DI women’s hoops for Mercer. The team was incredibly senior heavy last season. First off the bench in 2018-2019, Jaron Dougherty played more than 600 fewer minutes than the starting five last season and is now carrying the team. They’re rolling with a whole new look and the group of underclassmen are still searching for an identity through constantly revolving lineups. The Bears were picked to win the SoCon at the beginning of the year even though they were returning with only one upperclassmen in junior Shannon Titus. Freshmen like Jill Harris show there’s light at the end of the tunnel, leading all rookies in the conference with a team-high 85 assists on a team struggling to score the basketball.

Northern Colorado

Big Sky

Current overall record: 9-11
Current conference record: 5-6
2018-19 overall: 21-11
2018-19 conference: 15-5
What changed: How do you replace your program’s all-time leading scorer? That’s what coach Jenny Huth has had to figure out once Savannah Smith departed Greeley. A player like Smith and the success that she generated as a 2,013 point scorer was only a blessing that fell into Huth’s lap. In just her second season at the helm, the coach is still working in a new way of doing things. There’s only two contributors – Chapman and Hintz – who were a part of the former regime and both are major backbones of the Bears leadership. Three freshman are playing more than 20 minutes per game, and Alisha Davis has already separated herself from the crop on both ends of the floor. Her 10.7 points per game might be good for second best on the squad, but her terrifying 44 blocks is almost half the team’s total. There’s your sign that the woes may only be temporary, and Northern Colorado could see itself on the other side of this list of movers and shakers in the DI women’s landscape next season.

Youngstown State

Horizon

Current overall record: 11-13
Current conference record: 5-9
2018-19 overall: 22-10
2018-19 conference: 13-5
What changed: Four record-setting seniors wrapped up their careers after carrying the Penguins to a school-record of 13 conference wins and an at-large berth to the WNIT. The one returning senior, Mary Dunn, was down and out four games in, leaving way too many questions. Coach John Barnes has started to lean on a tribe of freshmen to help rebuild at Youngstown. Two redshirts and four true freshman are playing more than 10 minutes per game, and it’s been musical chairs on the sidelines all season. YSU is young and going to stay young. This isn’t looking like a one-year fix.

California Baptist

WAC

Current overall record: 11-13
Current conference record: 3-7
2018-19 overall: 18-12
2018-19 conference: 11-5
What changed: In the first season as a DI program, Cal Baptist had a crazy run, capturing 10-straight conference wins and a trip to the WNIT. The Lancers stepped up their scheduling this season, going as far as meeting No. 3 Stanford in Victoria, Canada, losing only 83-78. From there, it’s pretty much been a rolling wave of wins and losses as they struggle to find traction. Their first year wasn’t a fluke, but the reality of how hard it is to stay on top is setting in. Without a handful of non-DI teams to get their momentum up with, it has been hard to collide with the WAC with the same steam.

Miami (FL)

ACC

Current overall record: 12-11
Current conference record: 4-8
2018-19 overall: 25-9
2018-19 conference: 12-4
What changed: Starting the season at No. 18 put pressure on the Canes, adding on the burden to follow up on 10-straight postseason appearances and at least 20 wins in 10 of the past 11 seasons. A foot injury has interrupted the season of star center and ACC Player of the Year Beatrice Mompremier, removing any threat in the paint for the past 10 games. It was supposed to be juniors Endia Banks and Kelsey Marshall supporting Mompremier to build on the team’s No. 25 finish last season, but their lackluster numbers through consistent minutes is leaving a lot of room for new faces to fight for their shot. With the nature of the ACC, Miami could write off this one or it can strap up and charge into the last six games of the season and see what happens. Either way, it’s ACC Tournament champs or bust to revive this season’s hopes.

Maine

America East

Current overall record: 11-14
Current conference record: 7-4
2018-19 overall: 25-8
2018-19 conference: 15-1
What changed: Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, Maine is not on a hopeless skid like some of the other DI women’s programs listed so far. But the Black Bears are rocking a losing record and four conference losses. That already is a couple steps backward in contrast to that near-flawless America East run last year. Maine is no longer running the show in the AE, which isn’t looking much like a power conference. Since 2018-19, the program graduated four senior starters and third-year coach Amy Vachon is just now developing her own recruits. Although things are different in Orono, the Black Bears still can’t be ruled out as the darkhorse.

New Mexico

Mountain West

Current overall record: 13-12
Current conference record: 4-8
2018-19 overall: 24-7
2018-19 conference: 14-4
What changed: Graduating one of the best posts in the country in Jaisa Nunn is a hard loss but expected. Aisia Robertson tearing her ACL at the end of last season was not. The injury forced a delay in coach Mike Bradbury’s plans and it’s only in the past few games that Robertson has given full minutes and played closer to where she left off. Fresno State already has the Mountain West wrapped up, but hopes of an immediate revival aren’t ruled out for the tournament.

Come Up

I’ve also dug up some teams are that are out here making waves this season. It’s hard to breakdown each team considering the formula is basically trusting the process, getting older and winning big games. Other than that, there’s no real magic to any of the teams below.

Indiana

Big Ten

Current overall record: 19-6
Current conference record: 9-4
2018-19 overall: 21-13
2018-19 conference: 8-10

Southeast Missouri

Ohio Valley

Current overall record: 18-5
Current conference record: 10-2
2018-19 overall: 13-17
2018-19 conference: 8-10

Tulane

American

Current overall record: 12-11
Current conference record: 7-3
2018-19 overall: 15-15
2018-19 conference: 5-11

Grand Canyon

WAC

Current overall record: 12-8
Current conference record: 7-2
2018-19 overall: 7-20
2018-19 conference: 5-11

Samford

SoCon

Current overall record: 11-13
Current conference record: 6-3
2018-19 overall: 10-20
2018-19 conference: 5-9

UMass Lowell

America East

Current overall record: 12-12
Current conference record: 8-3
2018-19 overall: 7-22
2018-19 conference: 3-13

Lafayette

Patriot

Current overall record: 11-10
Current conference record: 7-4
2018-19 overall: 8-23
2018-19 conference: 2-16

San Diego

WCC

Current overall record: 14-9
Current conference record: 8-4
2018-19 overall: 9-21
2018-19 conference: 2-16

*Merrimack

NEC

Current overall record: 14-8
Current conference record: 7-4
What changed: Okay, nothing has changed except Merrimack’s rise to the NCAA’s top division. There’s no way they couldn’t make that list with a strong record in and out of conference. The team is following right in California Baptist’s shoes from last year with a successful DI women’s program right off the bat.

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