Dating back to 1994, the current version of the Preseason WNIT has welcomed a slew of teams into the bracket, but there are always a few newcomers year-to-year. In 2017, the first-timers include CSUN, Houston and New Orleans.
CSUN prevailed in its exhibition game Oct. 28 against The Master’s University, 83-65. As expected, the Matadors leaned on the interior abilities of Channon Fluker, Lauren Shymkewicz and Tessa Boagni, who hit the floor at 6-foot-4, 6-3 and 6-2, respectively. Fluker, the 2016-17 Big West player of the year, closed with 17 points and 15 rebounds; Shymkewicz added 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Boagni (a native of New Zealand) added 14 points and seven boards.
Senior Taylor Nate, who played four seasons on the CSUN softball team, got her first collegiate taste of the hardwood and tallied 10 points.
“We knew going into the game that our advantage was going to be inside," said CSUN head coach Jason Flowers. "Although we had to remind them a couple of times, I thought we did a good job of getting the ball inside. For the most part, our bigs scored at a high percentage. We still have a lot to work on going forward.”
Flowers is entering his eighth year as head coach at CSUN; his team won the Big West tournament championship in 2014 and 2015 to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
New Orleans has the pleasure of welcoming back all five starters, and that could certainly help in one area as the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio got a little out of whack in 2016-17. However, the team forced more than 20 turnovers per game, so the Privateers can be very difficult to find comfort on the floor.
Randi Brown will be fun to watch after a season of topping 22 points per game; the roster and coach Keeshawn Davenport were able to sigh with relief with the return of Shania Woods (10 points, seven-plus rebounds per game) from injury.
“Fortunately for us, we now have just about everyone back and healthy. We had a stretch in pre-season where we didn't have many healthy bodies in practice,” Davenport said. “Shania Woods returned to practice this week after being out for about eight weeks with a fractured hand. We are very glad to have her back on the floor because of the presence she gives us inside the paint.
“Randi is looking forward to getting her senior year started, but her fellow senior teammates have prepared themselves and are ready to roll as well. Our freshmen are coming along and I expect them to make contributions as well. It's just a very exciting time, and we are grateful for another opportunity to play and coach the sport we love.”
Houston might not get a home game (depending on WNIT matchups) until Dec. 3 against Texas Tech, so the Cougars may be figuring out roles and matchups while dealing with multiple road trips. A few years ago that might have been alarming, but head coach Ron Hughey is evening out some of the peaks and valleys in recent program history.