Baker’s amazing finish denies a POY three-peat
Following up our picks for the Horizon League Men’s Basketball Awards, I’m here with the HoriZone Roundtable picks for Women’s Basketball Award Winners.
Unlike on the men’s side, you can direct your disagreements to these picks straight to me. I’ll be going this one solo.
|Angel Baker||Wright State||Player of the Year|
|Kyle Rechlicz||Milwaukee||Coach of the Year|
|Megan Walstad||Milwaukee||Defensive Player of the Year|
|Nneka Obiazor||Youngstown State||Freshman of the Year|
|Destiny Leo||Cleveland State||Sixth Player of the Year|
Angel Baker beat out a strong set of challengers to earn our Player of the Year nod. Kyle Rechlicz brought Milwaukee back to its glory years — and in the process brought home a share of the Horizon League title — to earn Coach of the Year. Rechlicz’s star Megan Walstad was the centerpiece of a defense that caused nightmares for anyone trying to score inside the 3-point arc and has been rewarded as our Defensive Player of the Year. Nneka Obiazor joined a team that features two former First Team All-League picks and showed she’s already on the same level to win Freshman of the Year. Finally, Destiny Leo might not have been our Freshman of the Year pick, but her stellar scoring off the bench should still let her go home with some hardware as Sixth Player of the Year.
If you thought this year was an entertaining one in Horizon League women’s basketball, get ready. Our awards list features a junior, a sophomore, and two freshmen.
Player of the Year: Angel Baker, Wright State
The bizarre nature of this season made this pick incredibly difficult. Two-time defending Player of the Year Macee Williams put up an outstanding 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in league play for an IUPUI team that went 11-3 (a win percentage of over 78). Those averages are good for third in the league in scoring and the league lead in rebounding. Williams has the winning percentage, the stats and the reputation to take home the award, but IUPUI played just 14 games in a 20-game league schedule.
Angel Baker struggled to find her shot before Horizon League play, but righted the ship and wound up averaging an efficient 17.0 points per game against league foes for the 2021 Horizon League Champion Wright State Raiders. As the best player on the best team, it’s impossible to deny she belongs on this list. That’s especially true since her amazing play against a murderers’ row in the last three weeks is why the Raiders are the top seed. Baker averaged 23.2 points and led Wright State to a 4-2 record against Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Northern Kentucky.
Megan Walstad — who we’re just getting started with — doesn’t have the eye-popping scoring stats of Williams or Baker with just 13.4 points per game, but she more than makes up for it elsewhere. She’s third in the league in rebounding despite sharing a front court with second place rebounder Brandi Bisping. She’s also far and away the league’s blocks leader, and as stated above she’s the HoriZone Roundtable pick for Defensive Player of the Year.
As amazing as it would be to see the first three-time Horizon League Player of the Year, Macee Williams would need to come back for another season for that to happen if we had final say. While I’m not going to pretend the defending champion that narrowly pulled off the league’s best win percentage is actually the fifth best team like the formula determined, missing six games can’t be ignored when there are other incredible candidates for the spot.
Angel Baker was ridiculous for the Raiders, particularly down the stretch. She’s the pick.
Coach of the Year: Kyle Rechlicz, Milwaukee
As was the case on the men’s side, the team projected seventh in the Horizon League’s official Preseason Poll won a share of the regular season title. Unlike the men’s side, HoriZone Roundtable didn’t do any better with projections.
Walstad — who we’re still not done talking about — returned from an injury that kept her out last season and was an absolute gamechanger for the Panthers, who jumped out to a 12-0 start in Horizon League play before a late-season slump. Nonetheless, three straight wins to end the season means Milwaukee gets to claim a Horizon League Championship in women’s basketball for the first time since 2006.
But that’s just the latest of many droughts that ended this year for Rechlicz’s team. Wins over Ball State and Bradley to start the season gave Milwaukee its first 2-0 start since 2010. A win over Marquette in the third game gave the Panthers their first 3-0 start since 1988 — before the team was even a member of Division I — and its first win over its crosstown rival since 2008. Next the Panthers opened Horizon League play with a pair of wins over arch-rival Green Bay, sweeping the Phoenix for the first time since 2006. That 12-0 start to Horizon League play also matched a record set during that 2005-06 season.
A season full of historic landmarks and a share of the Horizon League Title warrants serious recognition. Kyle Rechlicz should win the league’s official Coach of the Year award in a landslide.
Defensive Player of the Year: Megan Walstad, Milwaukee
I told you we weren’t done with Megan Walstad!
Walstad was the anchor of a Milwaukee team that held opponents a Horizon League-best (worst?) 35.1 percent shooting from the field. Inside the 3-point arc, Panther opponents shot just 38.6 percent thanks largely to her presence. The 6-foot-2 sophomore’s 39 blocks on the year were so far ahead of the competition that you’d need to take add together the blocks of two other contenders for this spot to get her total. Tyler Frierson’s 23 blocks — second highest in the league total blocks — and add them to Chelsea Olson’s 16 — the sixth best block total — to reach Walstad’s count.
What makes Walstad my pick is that even when she wasn’t doing things that show up on the stat sheet, she was impacting the game. Against IUPUI and Macee Williams, it was Walstad’s job to try to slow the Jaguars’ star. She did such a good job she might’ve been the primary reason that I gave Angel Baker Player of the Year. In the first game of the series, Williams scored just six points on 2-for-16 shooting. Williams put up 23 points on Saturday, but did it on just 8-for-23 shooting — 34.7 percent from the field — in a double-overtime Milwaukee win. Taking that Friday game off of Williams’ record jumps her league scoring average nearly two and a half points to just over 20 per game. To my original point, Walstad got just two blocks among those 14 missed shots. Her physical play was enough to do something nobody else figured out how to do to the Jaguars’ Star all season.
Freshman of the Year: Nneka Obiazor, YSU
Joining a roster that featured 2020 First Team All-Horizon League selection Chelsea Olson and 2019 First Team All-League pick Mary Dunn, it wasn’t clear what Nneka Obiazor’s role would be in her first year with Youngstown State.
As it turns out, her role is likely going to end up being called “All-League Forward.” The 5-foot-10 Obiazor missed out on being the team’s leading scorer to Dunn by 0.4 points per game, 15.6 to 15.2. She did fight her way to a decisive lead on the boards, finishing fifth in the entire Horizon League with 8.3 rebounds per game. While she only made one 3-pointer per game, the 44.4 percent clip she shot them at suggests it should be a significant part of her game going forward.
While Dunn was the 2017 Horizon League Freshman of the Year and Olson was a 2018 All-Freshman Team pick, neither had the impact that Obiazor has had this season. Considering where the senior duo’s careers have gone, that’s definitely encouraging news for Youngstown State fans.
Sixth Player of the Year: Destiny Leo, CSU
If not for a season that’s clearly worthy of an All-League selection out of Obiazor, Destiny Leo might be taking home multiple postseason awards. The 5-foot-10 freshman guard was Cleveland State’s second leading scorer on the season and third leading scorer in Horizon League play despite making just one start all year. She averaged 10.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in league play with an effective field goal percentage of 51.8.
In a potentially intriguing development for the future, Leo averaged 13.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game for the Vikings in the team’s final eight league games. With three of those series coming against Green Bay, Oakland and Youngstown State, it wasn’t exactly an easy stretch of schedule where she began to up her game. With CSU’s star Mariah White currently a senior, Leo might be in a position where she’s inserted into the lineup and asked to be a go-to scorer early in her career. If the end of this year is indication, she seems like she’ll be up to the task.