As the season is just days away, it’s time to look at the plethora of returning talent that FGCU Women’s Basketball currently has. In a previous article, we noted the batch of quality incoming talent that Coach Smesko added to the team this off-season. Now we take a look at the individuals returning to the Blue and Green and what they could bring to the table this season!
As soon as it was announced that Kierstan Bell had signed on to be an Eagle, the expectations started mounting. She joined FGCU after a freshman year at Ohio State that saw her average approximately 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. This impressive campaign and a high school career that earned her a 5-star recruit designation, made her the highest rated prospect in FGCU program history.
After missing the first 3 games of the season last year, waiting for NCAA paperwork to grant her immediate eligibility, Kierstan exploded on the scene and never looked back. In her first game in Green and Blue, she scored 24 points, hauled in a whopping 20 rebounds, dishes out 3 assists, blocked 3 shots, and grabbed 2 steals in 29 minutes, leading the team to an 84-61 win over Davidson. Over the course of the season, she didn’t cool down one bit. Statistically, she finished the year staring all 26 games played and averaged 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals while shooting 53% from the floor and 36% from deep.
Kierstan shattered the already high expectations she had coming into the program. Entering her junior season the expectations of her and the team have only grown. Kierstan’s maturity and commitment really separate her from the competition. To quote another former Ohio State Buckeye (Justin Fields), she’s “built for this.”
“My off-season was pretty good. It felt really good to get back in the gym with teammates from last year and the newcomers. I’ve been working on my shot. Everybody has weaknesses and one of mine was just finishing strong on both sides of the rim and I think I have improved that. It’s been fun [getting to know the newcomers]. It’s a journey and I was in their shoes last year. It’s a lot when you first come to FGCU and you’re trying to learn the system. I want to be a better teammate and help them understand what coach smesko wants and help them apply it to the game. Coach gives everybody a role. As a player you need to understand why you have the role you were given. Then you can apply it to your game and help yourself and the team. Playing your role to the best of your ability makes you a better player and teammate. Coach wants me to be the teammate to bring energy. I think I carry some weight on the team so I feel like if I bring the right energy every practice and every game, it can help the team and lead us to success. We all want to be better teammates before anything else. Are you willing to step in and sacrifice for each other. We want to shoot better as a team. That’s one of our biggest goals. We can accomplish those things if we have the right mindset. Are you willing to be ‘called up’ or will you feel ‘called out’ in regard to your mistakes. After losing in the first round of the tournament, our goal is to focus on one game at a time. We have a lot of big games this year. How locked in we are in practice and in games will determine our success.”Kierstan Bell
Andrea Cecil joined the eagles last year after a successful career at Bowling Green. After dominating in high school, she was named Most Improved Player in her freshman year at BGSU, after averaging 5 points and 3 rebounds per game. As a sophomore there, she took another developmental step. Averaging 9 points and 5 rebounds, while adding a solid 3-point shot to her repertoire. It’s no surprise that her development took another leap forward as a junior. In what was an injury plagued season for BGSU, she was the only player to start all 30 of their games. In doing so, she averaged 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, shooting 46% from the field and 40% from 3.
Unfortunately for Andrea, her senior season at BGSU was denied to her after suffering an injury and being forced to take a medical redshirt season. After a year out of action, Andrea chose to take her talents down to sunny Southwest Florida to finish out her collegiate career. Last season, she appeared in 25 games for the Eagles, making 6 starts. She finished the year averaging 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist. This year, Andrea doesn’t seem to be focused on getting her numbers back up to the heights they have been. She’s much more concerned with doing whatever she has to, to help the team reach it’s goals, whether that be an efficient rotational player, or the powerhouse of production that she has been in the past.
“This year has already been so much different than last year. I’m excited to experience all the fans in Alico. I’ve learned so much about basketball and life throughout my career but the coaching staff shows me everyday that there’s still plenty to learn. Coach Smesko studies the game so much and tries to pass knowledge on to us. Learning to play with high IQ and efficiency is something I’m working on. It’s been awesome getting to know [the newcomers]. Last year was tough since we didn’t have normal summer training session. Even when the season started, we weren’t really able to hangout much outside of basketball. Being able to be with my teammates all of the time has been great and I think that will help us on the court as well. We want to go to the NCAA tournament and get to the sweet sixteen or further. That’s a big goal and I think we are ready to take on that challenge and keep improving everyday in order to get there. I want to be the best I can be in whatever role I play for the team.”Andrea Cecil
Tishara “TK” Morehouse
TK enters her 2nd season as an Eagle and her senior season as a collegiate athlete. She joined the squad last year after 2 dominant seasons in JUCO. As a freshman at Western Nebraska Community College, she averaged 15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. As a sophomore she improved her numbers further, averaging 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Her success earned her a chance to play for Coach Smesko and become an Eagle. It’s no secret that there is a lot of talent in the JUCO ranks. It’s also common for players to need at least a few weeks to a year, to really acclimate to the size and speed of the game at the DI level. If you told that to TK, she’d probably have something to say about it. Through the eyes of a spectator, it took her no time at all to get adjusted and take the reigns of the team at the point guard spot. She played and started 28 games for the Eagles, averaging about 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. This production equals one of the better seasons any hooper at FGCU has ever had. But if you ask her, it wasn’t enough. TK’s expectations for both herself and the team are appropriately sky high.
“It felt great to be able to meet the team earlier this time around. Last year, we didn’t even really meet until August. A lot of players were able to improve physically and also in their understanding of the way FGCU basketball is played. I came to FGCU with a goal to be the best player I can be. I’m a confident person and I expected more success last year from myself and with the team. I just play basketball. Anytime I feel like I have the advantage, I take the opportunity. Sometimes that surprises people, seeing me make so many shots in the paint. I pride myself in my confidence, which leads to fearlessness. I want to give full effort every time I step on the court. It’s been great getting to know the new players and understanding their game. We have great new weapons that will only help the team. This off-season, I have worked on my 3-point shot and trying to improve that percentage. I want to be a more vocal leader because, this year, each win is an important stepping stone for our team to make a great run in the tournament.”Tishara “TK” Morehouse
Similar to her teammate, Kierstan Bell, Aaliyah Stanley played one season at a bigger school (Eastern Michigan) where she had success, before transferring to FGCU. As a freshman there, she was impressive in her 18 games played. She finished that season averaging 12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal per game. In her first year with the Green and Blue, she played an extremely valuable role for the Eagles. She made no starts but played in 27 games, averaging 20 minutes a night. Statistically, she averaged 10 points and 2 rebounds, while shooting the ball pretty efficiently at 43% from the floor, 38% from 3, and 85% from the charity stripe.
Now, entering her junior season, Aaliyah looks to make even more strides. Having already learned and experienced the importance of knowing your role and excelling in it for the sake of the team, I see her production and efficiency taking a step up this year, especially early on. Her experience in the system and development off the court should make her an early favorite for a “most-improved” type of designation, even with the influx of talent and returning players.
Last year as a freshman, Maddie came out absolutely on fire for the Eagles, scoring 18 points in her first ever college basketball game. She even started the first four games of her career. Unfortunately, the impressive freshman was limited to just 7 games, due to an ongoing injury. Still, she finished the season with averages of about 5 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist.
Now, with a season under her belt and a clean bill of health, Maddie is poised and prepared to be an integral part of the team as a sophomore.
“Summer was great. It was nice to finally experience summer workouts and get in the gym with my teammates. Summer workouts help you get settled in and set the tone for the team. I’ve been focusing on my shot and being consistent with my release. Playing good defense and being in the right position has also been an emphasis for me. We have a lot of talent this year and there is so much competition. It’s going to continue to be competitive when the season starts and everyone is doing their best to get minutes. This year I hope to take a step forward and be someone who can knock down shots, make great decisions, and get extra possessions for the team. We will be very fun to watch and the more we play together, the more we will play to each other’s strengths. As a team we want to go back to the tournament and our goal is to make it to the sweet 16 at least. Personally, I hope to stay healthy this year, establish my role on the team, contribute to our wins, and build up a leadership role that I can carry into next year.”Maddie Antenucci
Kerstie Phills rejoins the Eagles for her graduate season, after spending a year away from the program due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To recap her career, Kerstie played her freshman year at Wagner, where she led her team in PPG (13). Her impressive rookie season led to her decision to transfer and play for Coach Smesko here at FGCU. Kerstie sat out her true sophomore year due to transfer rules. As a redshirt sophomore, she spent the year getting her feet wet. She played in 31 games, making 8 starts. She finished the season averaging about 5 points and 3 rebounds.
It was Kerstie’s redshirt junior season when she seemed to put it all together and become a real fan favorite in the program. In a year where the team was stacked with talent (19-20), Kerstie managed to secure 23 minutes per contest across 29 games played (26 starts) and play a big role in the success that squad achieved. Kerstie showed just how well-rounded her game can be, averaging 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal per game, while shooting 46% from the floor and 35% from deep.
Heading into her graduate season, it will be interesting to see how (if at all) the year off factors into her contribution to the team. Kerstie is no stranger playing on deep and talented teams like this and I have no doubt she will find a way to help the team and, again, be a major factor in the success of the team.
“COVID-19 brought a lot of change and uncertainty to many people. Not knowing what the future held, I made the personal decision to step away from the team and be with my family back home. After sitting out, I’m grateful for the opportunity to opt back in and be reunited with my team. Seeing my coaches and old teammates brought back so many good memories. I’ve also enjoyed making new memories with new teammates as well. I want to be a great communicator, a relentless rebounder, and someone who always out hustles the competition on both ends of the court. I want to become a more prolific shooter this season and get those percentages up. As for the team, we want to be the best we can be. We want to make history, specifically in the post season. But that’s all talk until we make it happen!”Kerstie Phills
Tyra Cox returns to the squad for her redshirt senior season after an making huge strides last year. As a freshman, she spent half of her rookie campaign at William & Mary before transferring to FGCU mid-season and utilizing a redshirt designation. For her redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, Tyra got a lot of experience coming off the bench and learning under some of the program legends that those teams were stacked with. Last year, with so much roster turnover, Tyra made the most of the exodus of scholarship players and the subsequent void that it left. She played in 24 games, making 23 starts and posting averages of 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals per game.
Now, heading into her redshirt senior season, Tyra has experienced not just winning, but being a major factor in the team’s success. In a season with a loaded roster such as this, Tyra’s role could fluctuate, based on who has the “hot hand”. Regardless, her presence and experience in the system make her invaluable to Coach Smesko and the rest of the team.
Tanner Bryant enters her senior season and 4th year at FGCU. She impressed early on in her career with a few double digit point performances, including a 16 point effort. As a sophomore, her minutes and subsequent production took a bit of a dip, due to the influx of talent that joined the roster that year. Last, year as a junior, Tanner took on a larger role, starting the first 3 games of the season. Unfortunately, she suffered an injury during the season that limited her to playing just 13 games, total. Still, she finished her season with back-to-back strong conference performances against Lipscomb.
At this point in her career, Tanner has accumulated a lot of experience and time in Coach Smesko’s system. With so many newcomers, her veteran presence could be leaned on, especially early, even with a high number of returners. Whether it was depth or injury, Tanner’s career is yet to fully take off, despite showing skill and potential. However, her contribution cannot go understated. Experience in the system, energy, and tenacity are the areas where Tanner has always shined. These areas may not show up in the box score all the time, but they play a big role in the success of the team. Additionally, over the years, there are multiple cases of players taking a few years to get their feet wet before being integral parts of the team, later in their career (Sheahen Dowling & Alyssa Blair from just this past season).
Kierra “Kiki” Adams
Kiki Adams’ FGCU career is a short one thus far. She joined the team in 2019 as a freshman but utilized a redshirt season. Last year, the 6’0″ guard saw her first action as a redshirt freshman. Her 22 games played were invaluable for her development in the system. She played just 6 minutes per contest but averaged 2 rebounds per game. Using just a little bit of math, that equates to about 6 rebounds per game if she played 20 minutes. Additionally, Kiki scored 5 points several times throughout the year. Any experience Kiki gets will only help her and the team moving forward, whether that’s this year or beyond.
Seneca Hackley enters her sophomore season with the Eagles after a very solid and impressive freshman year. She played in 29 games for the Green and Blue, earning 16 minutes per contest. On the season, she averaged 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. Watching Seneca play, it was evident that she got better as the season went on. This is evidenced by her PPG increasing to 6 during the conference portion of the season. Additionally, Seneca scored 10+ points 3 times, all during conference play, lead by a 15 points performance versus Lipscomb. This year, Seneca has an opportunity to learn from the plethora of experience on this team. She can continue to prove that she is ready to contribute now and also show just how high her ceiling might be.
“My off-season was good. I’ve been back on campus since late May so I got extra time to work on my shot and get stronger in the weight room. It’s been great getting to know all my new teammates. There are new personalities and they all fit well. They’re very talented and make us a better team. This year, having full workouts and practices, we’ve been able to gel as a team and figure out how we can play to each other’s strengths. This year I want to be a more consistent player on both ends of the floor. Defensively, I want to be a better communicator and put myself in good position to either guard the ball or in a good position to help my teammates. It’s no secret, our goal is to make an NCAA tournament run. Right now, we are locked in and focused on getting better everyday.”Seneca Hackley
Emma List returns to FGCU for her redshirt senior season after making impressive strides last season. To paint this picture, Emma first joined the Eagles after a freshman season at Albany. She then transferred to FGCU for her sophomore year but had to sit out due to transfer rules, earning her the “redshirt” designation the following season. In her first action as an Eagle, Emma saw action in 25, making 1 start, but played sparingly. By season’s end, she averaged just under 2 points per game and 1 rebound.
Heading into last season, the redshirt junior was faced with an opportunity as all 5 of the previous year’s starters were gone from the team. Emma took full advantage, increasing her production significantly. She played in 29 games and started 28 of them, averaging 26 minutes a night. She increased her stats across the board, averaging 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and about 1.5 steals per game. Emma was a program leader for a team that started the year with a lot of uncertainty and went on to have maybe the best season in its short, but storied, history.
This year, Emma should continue to be a leader for her teammates, both new and old. Whatever her production may end up looking like on paper, you can be sure that she will be playing the game in a way that benefits the team. Emma’s story of making the best of an opportunity is an example for players on the team and even those at other schools, who are working hard and have yet to really flourish. While Emma’s improvement is inspiring, nobody should be under the impression that she’s done or satisfied.
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