A very-flawed midseason #HLWBB awards ballot

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Photo: Wright State Athletics

We’ve reached the unofficial midway point of the 2023-24 regular season, which seems like a good time to take a few minutes and assess how things have gone so far. It’s safe to say that, outside of the two teams that everyone picked to lead the way doing just that, it’s been quite an unpredictable season in Horizon League women’s basketball.

We’ll have a new conference player of the year at the end of the year, since Destiny Leo is out the rest of the way. Several other injuries to top players have also affected the shape of things, and names like Kailee Davis and Jazmyn Turner, typically automatic all-conference selections, don’t appear on any of the three teams listed here. Detroit Mercy is good. Youngstown State is not.

It’s not total chaos, Amellia Bromenschenkel is still on the first team to test the limits of autofill, but it’s close.

It needs to be mentioned that there’s something inherently rough about choosing all-conference performers in late December since, to this point, we’ve only seen one week of Horizon League play this season. That leaves wildly disparate non-conference schedules as the primary consideration, and with that, the challenge of trying to figure out whether it’s better to score (for example) 12 points against Michigan State or 22 against Niagara. Just as surely as these selections vary pretty significantly from the preseason, by the end of the year, things will have shifted once again.

Nevertheless, here is one guy’s opinion of the Horizon League’s best as we approach the new year.

All-Conference Awards

Player of the Year: Alexis Hutchison, Wright State
Coach of the Year: Kate Achter, Detroit Mercy
Defensive Player of the Year: Carmen Villalobos, Cleveland State
Freshman of the Year: Carter McCray, Northern Kentucky
Sixth Player of the Year: Maddy Skorupski, Oakland

First Team

PlayerPos.TeamYear
Alexis HutchisonGWright StateGr.
Kendall NeadGMilwaukeeSr.
Colbi MaplesGCleveland StateJr.
Amellia BromenschenkelGPurdue Fort WayneSr.
Khamari Mitchell-SteenGNorthern KentuckyJr.

Since arriving at Wright State from Malone University for a grad season, Alexis Hutchison has helped transform the Raiders into a darkhorse contender, thanks to her league-leading 19.7 points per game. Hutchison often scores in bunches with a lethal shot, as seen during her 37-point effort in a near-upset of West Virginia, but don’t sleep on her length and athleticism.

Kendall Nead has always been a very good player, but this season, she’s seemingly taken another step or two and has become one of the HL’s very best. The Iowa native is an outsized share of Milwaukee’s offense, given that she shoots the ball 17.2 times per game, but with a 50.8 percent effective field goal rate and 18.6 points per game, she wears it very well.

Colbi Maples has proven to be more or less an ideal fit for Cleveland State’s system, as the Grambling transfer is an all-conference-caliber performer on both ends of the floor. She’s become the Vikings’ primary ballhandler this season, and gets to the free throw line as well as anyone in the country, contributing heavily to her 16.9 points per game.

Whether you call her Bromo, Money Millie, or something else, make sure you also call Amellia Bromenschenkel one of the Horizon League’s most explosive scorers. Thanks to a 49.0 percent field goal percentage and an eye-popping 48.3 percent mark from three, she’s capable of kickstarting a Purdue Fort Wayne run at any moment.

In some ways, Khamari Mitchell-Steen has had the most impressive season of anyone on the conference so far, given that Northern Kentucky’s load of injuries forced the defensive specialist to run point for the Norse. She’s responded with 14.3 points per game (roughly double her career average) without much, if any, dropoff in other areas.

Second Team

PlayerPos.TeamYear
Jordana ReismaFCleveland StateSo.
Maddy SchreiberG/FGreen BayJr.
Natalie McNealGGreen BayJr.
Irene MuruaFDetroit MercySr.
Mickayla PerdueGCleveland StateSr.

It seems like the Horizon League is a bit thin on dominant post players after where the conference had been over the last few seasons, but don’t tell that to Jordana Reisma, who has developed into a force worthy of the Lilly Ritz/Macee Williams lineage as a sophomore. Reisma has always been an elite shot blocker, but she’s become just as reliable on the defensive glass and with the ball in her hands near the rim.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Green Bay has gone from one of several very good Horizon League teams last season to an NCAA Tournament at-large contender this year, but the return of Maddy Schreiber from injury is probably a decent place to start. Schreiber’s 66.1 effective field goal percentage, an astonishing number for someone who does a healthy amount of work in the mid-range, is 56th-best nationally (of nearly 3,000 players).

Alongside Schreiber, Natalie McNeal has been one of the Phoenix’s top options this season, as the Saint Louis transfer has responded to a new starting role by essentially doubling her scoring output, from 5.9 to 11.6 points per games. Of course, just as importantly in Kevin Borseth’s program, she protects the ball very well even while handling it frequently, and also works the glass to the tune of 5.7 rebounds per game despite standing 5-8.

It’s hard not to feel good for Irene Murua who, once upon a time, was the first player to commit to Detroit Mercy after the AnnMarie Gilbert fallout. She’s still around to see the program now on the way up, and all along, she’s been close to a walking double-double, including 12.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this season. Murua is also 65th in the nation in field goal percentage (60.0 percent).

Given what we now know, specifically that Leo would be sidelined for the year with a knee injury, it’s pretty crazy to think about the fact that Mickayla Perdue (a two-time transfer who went on to take Leo’s spot in the starting lineup) wasn’t cleared to play until the final days before the season opener. Where would Cleveland State be without her 13.5 points per game (17.8 since the bump in minutes), lethal three-point shot and quick hands in the backcourt? The Vikings likely don’t want to think about it.

Third Team

PlayerPos.TeamYear
Myonna HooperGDetroit MercySo.
Shayla SellersG/FPurdue Fort WayneGr.
Layne FerrellGWright StateR-Sr.
Danielle VuletichCRobert MorrisJr.
Katie DavidsonG/FIUPUIJr.

If it’s possible to single out one player behind Detroit Mercy’s rise this year, it might be Myonna Hooper, an every-game starter as a freshman who actually began this year on the bench before reclaiming her spot in the first five. Hooper is an outstanding shooter and facilitator with an even higher ceiling than she’s shown if she can take care of the ball.

Shayla Sellers has been a sure thing for Purdue Fort Wayne throughout the Maria Marchesano era, and while the Mastodons have become a lot more diversified over the last couple seasons, Sellers remains central to their success. Her 12.0 points per game so far are on pace for a career high, though her defense has just as much to do with why she owns an automatic spot on these lists.

While Hutchison has drawn the lion’s share of the attention at Wright State, former Akron Zip Layne Ferrell and her 12.7 points per game has had a lot to do with the Raiders’ success so far this season as well. The two players are similar in that they’re lethal shooters (though that’s not new to the Nutter Center), but with a healthy amount of athleticism and defensive skill that means WSU is no longer sacrificing the middle of the floor.

Danielle Vuletich is the fourth-best rebounder and second-best shot blocker in the Horizon League, averaging 7.2 and 1.6 per game, respectively, evidence that she’s arguably the best interior defender in the conference. Vuletich has never been known as a scorer, though given her 19-point, 16-rebound effort against College of Charleston just before the holiday break, the Colonials may want to reconsider her usage on the offensive end.

Though IUPUI has struggled so far this season, Kate Bruce appears to have a gem on her hands in Katie Davidson, maybe the quietest big-time additions in the entire conference. Her 18.2 points per game are third in the league, behind only Hutchison and Nead, and with Turner now back on the floor, the Jags have as good of a 1-2 punch as anyone in the conference.

Honorable Mention

When I set out to write this post, I started by thinking of a bunch of players off of the top of my head, before paring the list down to the final 15 listed above. Here are the names from that initial brain dump that were cut along the way.

PlayerPos.TeamYear
Carmen VillalobosGCleveland State5th
Bailey ButlerGGreen BayJr.
Cassie SchiltzGGreen BayR-Jr.
Kamy PepplerGMilwaukeeSo.
Carter McCrayCNorthern KentuckyFr.
Brooke Quarles-DanielsGOaklandSo.
Linda van SchaikG/FOaklandSr.
Audra EmmersonGPurdue Fort WayneJr.
Simone MorrisGRobert MorrisJr.
Dena JarrellsGYoungstown State5th
Emily SaundersFYoungstown State5th

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