Top-5 women’s basketball players to watch

Top-5 women’s basketball players to watch

By Eddie Garcia

Looking forward to the 2017-18 NIU women’s basketball season? Here’s a look at the Top 5 players to keep an eye on this basketball season.

After making it to the Mid-American Conference Championship for the first time in school history last season, the women’s basketball team looks to come back with a vengeance.

Last season the Huskies finished as the No. 4 seed in the MAC West Division, as they fell to the No. 6 seed Toledo Rockets in the MAC Championship.

The Huskies lost one of their key contributors, guard Ally Lehman, who broke multiple school records in her final season at NIU, including single season 10 assist games, single season game scoring and most consecutive 25 point games.

One of the more notable career records Lehman holds is her all-time minutes played. Lehman averaged 35.6 minutes per game and logged 1,176 total playing minutes in her time at NIU.

While the Huskies may not have Lehman’s energy on the court any longer, they do have nine returning letter winners from the 2016-17 team.

Here are a few notable players who look to step up in her absence.

5. Freshman guard Gabby Nikitinaite

Freshman guard Gabby Nikitinaite starts off the list at No. 5. Nikitinaite has played the last few seasons with the Sevenoaks Suns Club in Sevenoaks, England where she averaged 13.6 points per game while also averaging 5.9 rebounds per game.

She played in a variety of youth competitions for the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and has represented both England and Great Britain.

Nikitinaite, a taller guard at 5 feet and 11 inches, has what some may call a “flashy” style of play because of her passing ability and her ability to shoot the ball from long distance. The three-point line overseas is a little farther back than in the U.S., so don’t be shocked to see her shoot from deep – she’s used to it.

Her experience and style of play is exactly what this team is looking for as she draws a similar playing style of Lehman.

4. Senior forward Kelly Smith

Senior forward Kelly Smith is coming off a year where she averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

She recorded her best shooting season of her career last year going at 47 percent from the field.

Not only has Smith done well on the court, but her leadership off the court has played a huge role in her success. The senior forward earned All-Mac and MAC Distinguished Scholar Athlete honors last season, while also being named to the Dean’s List after the spring semester.

3. Sophomore guard Janae Poisson

Sophomore guard Janae Poisson appeared in 32 games for the Huskies last season, as she fueled the team off the bench, scoring in double figures 12 times.

She was named to the Mid-American Conference’s All-Freshman team as she averaged 8.4 points per game while shooting just under 43 percent from the field. She was only the third player to receive this honor since 2004.

Poisson brings a dual threat option as she has the ability to shoot and defend. Her energy is something the team thrives on, as she will likely see a starting role this season.

2. Junior guard Mikayla Voigt

Junior guard Mikayla Voigt appeared and started in all 33 games for NIU while playing 30 or more minutes in 32 of those games.

She was one of five Huskies to finish in double digits last season, as she averaged 11.5 points per game.

Voigt was lights out from the free throw line as she shot a team-best of just over 89 percent.

Her dependability and consistency will be crucial to the team’s success, as it looks like it is Voigt’s opportunity to become the leader on this team.

Voigt might see more repetitions at point guard with the departure of Lehman from a season ago.

1. Junior guard Courtney Woods

Junior guard Courtney Woods lands the No. 1 spot for the 2017-18 Huskies. Woods was named to the MAC’s All-Tournament Team last season as she played and started in all 33 games for NIU.

Woods shot .411 percent from the field and an impressive .395 percent from behind the arc, which ranked top-50 in the country.

She was the seventh leading scorer in the MAC and led the conference in three pointers made with 105. Woods was only the fifth player in MAC history to reach 100-or-more.

This team will heavily rely on her scoring abilities this season, as she is only the third underclassman in program history to score 500 points in a season with 547.

If Woods can build off of her prior years as a Huskie, this team is in for one historic season with her leading the team.

The team will begin its season with an exhibition game 1 p.m. Saturday against Benedictine University at the Convocation Center.