Under Head Coach Karl Smesko, rebuilding has never an option for FGCU Women’s Basketball. Year in and year out, Smesko loses an abundance of star players to graduation, only to replenish the roster by the following season. He has truly perfected the cycle of retooling and reloading the program with high quality transfers and promising freshmen, without missing a beat. This past year, the Women’s potentially historic season was halted by COVID-19, leaving the 2019-20 seniors to say farewell somewhat unceremoniously. The Women’s team will be losing fan favorites and all-time greats like Nasrin Ulel, Davion Wingate, Keri Jewett-Giles, Anja Marinkovic, Ashli O’Neal, Tytionnia Adderly, Erna Normil, Chandler Ryan, Kerstie Phils, and Ashley Panem. The loss of 10 scholarship players in one offseason would cripple many programs but it is clear that Smesko has a plan as always. By our count, there are 6 returning players, in addition to 7 quality newcomers who are set to don the Green and Blue. Below, we will break down each new player and speculate on what they bring to the table.
Tomia Johnson joins the Eagles as an exciting new freshman. She enters the program having had a ton of success at the high school level. Johnson was part of a Grandview High School squad that perpetually reached the final four of the class 5A state tournament. Those final 4 appearances amounted to state titles in 2017 and 2018. Johnson and her Grandview squad would again be playing in the state championship game in 2020, but the game was cancelled due to circumstances related to COVID-19. Johnson joins her new teammates, hungry to continue her success through the steady success of the program here at FGCU. With so many departures, it is possible that she finds a solid role on the team sooner than later. Coach Smesko states that “[Tomia is a 5’6″] point guard who is super quick. But not only that, she can really shoot the 3 as well.” Smesko has had quite a few different styles of point guard over the years. With Johnson’s speed and skill from beyond the arc, she should have no problem fitting right in as an Eagle.
Kierstan Bell looks to be a huge get for the Coach Smesko and the team. Last year, she played her freshman season at Ohio State, averaging about 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. Her phenomenal rookie campaign garnered her Big 10 All-Freahman Team honors as well as a runner up for the All-Big 10 Team. Bell stands at 6’1″, bringing rare size to an FGCU squad that has seldom featured athletes standing at 6’0″ or taller. At this time though, Bell will likely have to sit out this upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules. Still, she will have 3 years of eligibility to leave her mark on the university. Coach Smesko states that “[Kierstan is a] very good player. She is proven that she is an impact at the Division 1 level. She’s just an elite athlete who possesses great size and skill.” Bell is definitely the complete package and is should be able to really shine for the team when eligible. Until then, she is sure to provide excellent competition in practice for the other players.
Andrea Cecil looks to continue a tradition of quality grad transfers to join the team for their final year. She is one of the most decorated athletes to transfer into the program, which is saying something. She attended high school in Ohio where she had a ton of succes individually and as a team. She lit up the stat sheet during her high school career, landing her a D-I scholarship with Bowling Green. There she had instant success, carving herself a quality role coming off the bench. As a sophomore she became a full-time starter, increased her averages and flashed a strong 3-point shooting ability. As a Junior, her game improved even more, as she started every game, averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. She also shot 40% from 3 and 89% from the free throw line. Unfortunately, Cecil was unable to build off of that phenomenal season. She suffered an injury which forced her to redshirt the season. Now, Cecil is set to join the Eagles for her final year and is immediately eligible. She stands at 6’1″ which gives the team some real height this season. Coach Smesko raved about the addition of Cecil. “[Andrea is an exceptional shooter and is a very smart player. She can score in so many ways. She could definitely be a very productive player for us.” And with so much success at Bowling Green, coupled with a lack of proven experience on this team, Cecil has a big opportunity to really help this team and play a huge part in carrying on the wining tradition.
Tishara “TK” Morehouse
Tishara “TK” Morehouse is an exciting addition to the squad. She is set to join the Eagles after a lighting it up on the JUCO level at Western Nebraska Community College. There, she burst onto the scene as a freshman, scoring about 15 points per game. Last year, as a sophomore, she took another step. Morehouse paced her team, averaging 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. She shoots at a high percentage from all over the floor and looks to be a prolific scorer. Coach Smesko seems to think so too. He stated that “[TK] is another super quick point guard for us. She plays with a lot of intensity and she’s really good at attacking the rim. She’s also a really gifted 3-point shooter.” At 5’3″, Morehouse fits the mold of a speedy, energetic point guard and has a shot to run this offense as she enters her junior season.
Aaliyah Stanley presents as another big time transfer joining the program with 3 years of eligibility remaining. Similar to her new teammate, Kierstan Bell, Stanley will be sitting this upcoming season out due to NCAA transfer rules. Still, this looks to be a quality signing for the Eagles. Stanley had a great freshman year at Eastern Michigan. At 5’6″ she played in 18 games, averaging 12 points 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. Coach Smesko described her as being “very quick” and a “good attacker and scorer.” Stanley will have a year to acclimate herself to the team and give her teammates hell in practice before showing what she can do on the court for the Eagles.
Maddie Antenucci (her nickname has to be “Nooch” right??) is another promising freshman set to join the squad. She hails from Cincinnati, OH and attended Indian Hill High School where she had immense team and individual success. Maddie had tremendous Junior and Senior seasons that culminated in 2 championships and 2 Player of the Year designations. She brings her winning pedigree to an FGCU program that is no stranger to championships. Standing at 5’10”, she possesses the size and versatility to play forward or guard. Coach Smesko states that “[Maddie] has great skills offensively. She is a high-level shooter and a great finisher around the rim.” “Nooch” should feel right at home at FGCU and the team could look to her to help continue the winning tradition sooner than later.
Seneca Hackley is the 3rd and final freshman set to join this class. She comes to FGCU after starring for her team at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado. Similar to the other freshmen in this class, Hackley is no stranger to playing a role in a winning program. She never missed a game in any of her 4 years and helped the team win back to back state championships in her sophomore and junior seasons. As a final 4 team, it looked like she would be a part of a 3-peat until COVID-19 canceled the remainder of the tournament. Hackley’s individual and team accomplishments in high school are well noted. Coach Smesko talked about what she brings to the table. [Seneca] is an athletic guard [at 5’9″] who is extremely smart with the ball. She also loves to compete on the defensive end.” Hackley has a chance to develop into a high IQ type player and a defensive stopper. With tons of positions and roles up for grabs, look for Hackley to have an opportunity to contribute early in her career.