Leo named Horizon League Player of the Year; four other Vikings also honored


Following a historic 2022-23 season, both individually and on a team level, Cleveland State guard Destiny Leo has been named the Horizon League’s Player of the Year, the conference announced on Monday.

The award marks the third time that a CSU player has won the HL’s lead individual honor, as Leo was preceded by Vikings legends Audra Cook (1999-2000) and Kailey Klein (2008-09). Lanette Taylor was the player of the year in the old North Star Conference back in 1991-92.

While leading the Vikings to several program records, including overall wins (27), conference wins (17), and longest winning streak (16), Leo paced the HL in scoring by putting up 19.3 points per league contest. She also led the circuit in three pointers per game (2.6), free throws per game (5.4), offensive rating (127.1) and win shares (6.3), while ranking in the top five in categories like free throw percentage and points per scoring attempt. In December, she scored her 1,000th career point at the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic against Campbell, becoming the 32nd Viking to reach the milestone.

While the 2021 WBI champion has some climbing ahead of her on CSU’s career points list, she’s already the program leader in three-point percentage and free throw percentage. She’s also on pace to snap the school mark for made three pointers.

It’s the highest-profile award yet for the one-time Ohio Ms. Basketball runner-up at Eastlake North High School, who was named the conference’s Sixth Player of the Year in 2020-21, while also earning a place on the all-freshman team. Last season, she emerged at the Vikings’ headlining player and earned a spot on the all-league first team, a placement that she’s obviously repeating as a junior. The sport management major is also Dean’s List student who was named an Horizon League All-Academic Team honorable mention last week.

Four Other Vikings Earn HL Awards

Cleveland State dominated the postseason conference citations, with five players appearing on the lists seven times while no other team earned more than four awards, or had more than three individuals recognized. A Viking appears on each of the all-league teams, the all-freshman team, and the all-defensive team, while CSU took two of the five top-line honors.

Beyond Leo, the group included Amele Ngwafang, who placed on both the All-League Third Team and the All-Defensive Team. In her second season as a Viking following a transfer from Radford, Ngwafang nearly averaged a double-double in conference play, with 11.6 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. The rebounding number was good for second in the HL, and the bruising forward would often take that glass work straight to the charity stripe, as she was second nationally in free throw attempts per 40 minutes.

One of her signature performances – which arguably helped Leo win her highest award – came on February 4th against Youngstown State when she scored 21 points and pulled in 15 rebounds while holding YSU’s Player of the Year candidate, Lilly Ritz, to a foul-plagued six points and seven rebounds.

All-around threat Brittni Moore was named to the All-League Second Team after a breakout season that saw the Memphis native nearly double her 2021-22 scoring average, from 6.2 to 11.8. The athletic forward produced plenty of that total around the rim, often after one of her six rebounds per game, but she was also a major three-point threat, connecting on 41.2 percent of her tries during HL games. She earned her first career double-double in the Vikings’ home opener against Hofstra, then went on to log three straight down the stretch of the regular season, leading mid-February wins over Purdue Fort Wayne, Northern Kentucky, and Wright State.

Deja Williams was the Sixth Player of the Year, following a campaign where the point guard was one of the Horizon League’s best facilitators and most clutch players. Often spelling Leo during crucial stretches, Williams became CSU’s go-to ballhandler during the final possessions of quarters and was known for her ability to hit momentum-shifting buzzer beaters. Her other go-to offensive move was her fearless drives to the basket, which often resulted in a physical pounding and a trip to the free throw line, where she made opponents pay with an 83.8% rate, second only to Leo on the roster. She also excelled at firing off helpers (a team-high 2.1 per game) and defensively (her 2.4 steals per 40 minutes were seventh in the league).

Standout rookie post player Jordana Reisma was named to the All-Freshman Team, a fitting conclusion for a player who was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week four times during the regular season. Reisma’s 6-3 frame was often too much for opponents to handle on both ends of the floor, as she converted on 57.4% of her field goals to lead the team, and her 64.4% clip in conference games was the best in the circuit. She also blocked 39 shots, safely within the top 100 players nationally. The Brown Deer (WI) High School graduate nearly had a double-double in the third game of her collegiate career (nine points, nine rebounds, three blocks) to spark the Vikings’ upset of Big East foe DePaul, and her career-high 14 points helped CSU win at IUPUI for the first time since 2007.

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