Ellis set to bring versatility, experience to Vikings

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Cleveland State continued its torrid run through the transfer portal on Monday by receiving a commitment from Grace Ellis, a three-season forward from the University of Wyoming who has two years of eligibility remaining.

She is Chris Kielsmeier’s third transfer pledge since April 21st, joining sharpshooter Mickayla Perdue and sparkplug guard Colbi Maples, as the Vikings attempt to rebuild their roster following four transfer departures and three others whose eligibility expired at the conclusion of the 2022-23 campaign.

Ellis was an every-game starter for the Cowgirls, a very good team that went 23-11 overall last year and finished second to a juggernaut UNLV squad for both the regular season and tournament championships of the Mountain West Conference.

Against those Lady Rebels, which won 22 games in a row and 30 games overall before falling to Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Ellis exceeded her season averages with 34 points and 16 rebounds across three meetings. The January 19th home contest, which saw 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, along with nine rebounds and three assists, was one of her best games of the season. So was a matchup with New Mexico two weeks before that, where she fired home a career-high 19 points in a 78-69 win.

As a freshman, the Brisbane, Australia native received consistent minutes for a Wyoming team that successfully navigated the COVID-affected 2020-21 season. Somehow, after going 8-8 during the Mountain West schedule, the Cowgirls entered the league tournament off of a 22-day layoff with five consecutive canceled games and – just as everyone expected – mowed through Utah State, UNLV, Boise State, and Fresno State to win the league title. Ellis’ nine points were significant to the three-point championship game victory over Fresno, and she subsequently managed 6:44 of March Madness experience in a loss to third-seeded UCLA.  

Wyoming’s more recent postseason adventures involve the WNIT, including this past season when the Cowgirls battered Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the opening round before falling to Kansas State. In 2021-22, UW advanced to the tournament’s round of 16 before seeing their season ended by UCLA for the second time in a row, thanks to a triple-overtime barnburner.

Suffice it to say that Cleveland State is receiving a player battle tested in both tournament settings and under the bright lights, which sometimes seemed to get the best of an otherwise-stellar Vikings squad last year.

So what sort of player is Ellis? After a five-minute highlight reel, the word “versatile” comes to mind. She has good size with the toughness and physicality to match, runs the floor well, and can back people down from the low block before showing good finishing ability. Or, if you prefer, she can take people off the dribble from the wing, then pop in a few three pointers. Ellis wasn’t terribly prolific from range during her first two seasons at Wyoming with 13 total triples, but she emerged as a deep threat this past season by connecting on 28 of her 82 tries (34.1 percent). She’ll be a welcome presence on a Vikings team that is losing four of its top five three-point shooters (for context, departing do-everything player Brittni Moore, possibly the closest comparison to Ellis on the 2022-23 Vikings, went 23-for-64 from three, ranking third on CSU in percentage and fourth in total makes).

The two-time All-Mountain West Academic Team selection majors in mechanical engineering and, appropriately enough, aces most of the statistics involving a little extra math. Ellis’ effective field goal percentage last season was 52.7 percent, within the top 15 percent of players nationally, and she notched 1.09 points per scoring attempt. She’s also an above average defender who logged 0.8 defensive win shares.

Ellis follows in the footsteps of her parents William and Nicola, both of whom played basketball at the university level. The daughter enjoyed a heavily-decorated career at St. Peter’s Lutheran College, captaining an undefeated team to the Queensland Girls Secondary Schools Sports Association championship as a senior in 2019, following three consecutive second-place finishes. She was also an accomplished swimmer prior to her arrival in the U.S.

With the Vikings’ first Australian player since Taylah Levy on board to offer some much-needed frontcourt support, CSU’s roster now numbers ten. Holdovers Jordana Reisma and Faith Burch, along with incoming freshman Paulina Hernandez, are the other forwards currently on the team. The guards include Destiny Leo, Sara Guerreiro, Shadiya Thomas, Carmen Villalobos, and portal players Maples and Perdue, though the latter is transferring for a second time as an undergraduate and may have to sit out during the 2023-24 campaign.

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