One might guess that a team featuring 10 freshmen and sophomores and just two seniors is inexperienced. Though the team can’t deny its abundance of young players, the Creighton women’s basketball team has a better way to describe itself: deep.
“I think it’s one of the deepest teams that we’ve had,” coach Jim Flanery said.
The Bluejays were selected to finish in fourth place in their third season in the Big East. Senior guard Marissa Janning and sophomore guard Sydney Lamberty were honored with Preseason All-Big East recognition.
“We have a lot of different lineups that we can throw at teams,” Janning said.
Four starters return from a team that went 10-8 in Big East play and earned a spot in the WNIT last season.
A loss in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals to St. John’s kept the Bluejays from a highly coveted Big East Championship — something the team feels it can chase this season.
“Last season I felt like Villanova, DePaul and Seton Hall — who were the three best teams — were clearly a half-notch better than us,” Flanery said. “We were 1-5 against those teams. This year, I feel like there isn’t that kind of separation.”
Janning and fellow senior guard Tessa Leytem return for their fourth year in blue and white. Their first season was highlighted by a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where the team advanced to the second round. Janning said it would mean the world to her to return to the tournament.
Janning will look to finish her storied career on a high note. In her first season as a Bluejay, she became the first Creighton freshman to earn First Team All-MVC honors. She also was the MVC Freshman of the Year.
An encore performance in her sophomore year saw Janning win Big East Player of the Year and earn WBCA All-America Honorable Mention. In doing so she was the first Bluejay player to receive postseason All-America recognition. In 34 games she averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
Janning capped her second season in the Big East with another All-Big East First Team honor.
She will begin her senior season one point shy of 1,500 in her career.
Flanery lauded Janning for her athleticism, saying that she hasn’t lost a sprint in practice since she arrived on campus. He added that she does a lot of the little things that others take for granted.
“In the times that she struggled on offense last year it was hard to take her out of games because I think she’s still our best defender,” Flanery said. “I think that’s something that maybe gets overlooked a little.”
Junior forward Brianna Rollerson led the Bluejays last season 7.0 rebounds per game and finished the season with six double-doubles. She averaged 8.2 points per game and had 32 blocks in her first season as a regular starter.
Rollerson is joined in the junior class by guards Lauren Works and MC McGrory.
Works has played in 62 games at Creighton, averaging 4.0 points per game.
After recording zero starts and averaging 1.7 points per game in her freshman campaign, McGrory emerged to contribute 8.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 31 starts during her sophomore year.
Lamberty leads a talented class of six women into their sophomore seasons. As freshmen last year, the group saw a decent amount of playing time.
“Getting the experience we did last year will really help us compete this year,” Lamberty said.
The Cottage Grove, Minnesota, native was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team after averaging 10 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. She played in all 31 games and notched 25 starts.
Fellow Minnesota natives, forwards Bailey Norby and Kylie Brown, made 30 and 26 appearances, respectively, for the Jays during their first year in Omaha.
Guards Jade Owens, Myah Mellman and Aimee Rischard make up the rest of the sophomore class.
Owens averaged nearly 18 minutes per game and appeared in every game during her freshman campaign with the Jays. Mellman made 15 appearances for the Jays last season.
Rischard came to Creighton after serving as a student manager for the Oklahoma Sooners last season. In addition to welcoming Rischard, the Bluejays welcome four talented freshmen to the roster.
“I’m really excited, we have really good freshmen coming in,” Lamberty said. “I think everyone is going to contribute this year.”
Freshman forward Audrey Faber was in the spotlight when the Jays opened the season with an exhibition game against Newman. In a 79-52 win, Faber led the Jays with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
A native of Clive, Iowa, Faber was ranked No. 72 in ESPN’s Hoopgurlz Top 100 when she arrived at Creighton. A three-time All-State selection at Dowling Catholic High School (Iowa), Faber helped her team take home a state championship while averaging 18.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game during her senior season.
“I really see Audrey stepping up,” Lamberty said. “Just seeing her play in practice and just playing pickup with her, she looks really strong.”
Not far behind Faber in ESPN’s rankings was forward Jaylyn Agnew, who held the No. 100 spot.
Joining Faber and Agnew at the forward position is Ali Greene. Greene set school records with 1,678 points and 860 rebounds in her career at Mahtomedi High School in Minnesota.
With over 2,000 points scored in high school, guard Olivia Elger rounds out the Bluejays’ roster. She was recognized with an honorable mention in Sporting News’ 2014-2015 High School Prep Girls All America Team.
The Bluejays will begin the season against former Missouri Valley Conference foe Wichita State. The Shockers — coming off of an MVC Championship season — will meet the Jays at D.J. Sokol Arena on Friday at 12:05 p.m.
Later in the weekend, the Bluejays will welcome the Marist Red Foxes to D.J. Sokol Arena. The Red Foxes are coming a 21-12 season and a trip to the WNIT. The teams will square off on Sunday at 11:05 a.m.
The team will then go nearly a month without a game in Omaha; facing seven opponents on the road. The Bluejays will take on Drake, East Carolina, Northwestern, Eastern Washington, Kansas, Nebraska and Utah before returning home on Dec. 12 to take on South Dakota State.
Games against Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Iowa remain on the schedule before Creighton begins its third season of Big East play. A home matchup with St. John’s on Dec. 29 will mark the beginning of the conference season.