VCU women’s basketball is set to start their 2016-17 campaign after finishing fifth in the Atlantic 10 conference.
The women had a 23-10 run last season and landed a spot in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. This season, the rams — who were picked to once again finish fifth in the A-10 AP Preseason Coaches Poll — return 10 letterwinners and welcome four new freshmen, as well as senior-standout transfer Mooriah Rowser.
Rowser joined the team after graduating from the University of Memphis in May. The Rockville, Maryland native, who was tabbed as the no. 38 recruit out of high school in 2012 by ESPN, provides the team with a solid veteran scoring option after senior Adaeze Alaeze graduated last season and now plays professionally in Spain.
Rams third-year head coach Beth O’Boyle said she hopes Rowser can provide a scoring spark in Alaeze’s absence.
“We are very excited to welcome Mooriah into the VCU family,” O’Boyle said. “(She) is an experienced, hardworking and talented player. Her toughness, athleticism, and ability to score in a variety of ways will be a great fit into our up-tempo style of play.”
Rowser appeared in 95 games during her Memphis career while averaging more than 11 points per game and 44 percent shooting from the field.
Over the course of her four years as a Tiger, Rowser earned several accolades after putting up double-digit scoring 16 times in her collegiate career.
As a redshirt-freshman, Rowser was named to the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman team and was twice awarded AAC Freshman of the Week. She also received the UM Coaches Award at a team banquet last season.
Rowser will play alongside senior guard and elite sharpshooter Isis Thorpe — the Rams’ top returning scorer.
Thorpe averaged 9.7 points per game during the 2015-16 campaign and scored double figures 17 times. Thorpe’s best outing came against La Salle University in February, when she scored 21 points and helped the Rams seal an 84-76 overtime victory against the Explorers.
Thorpe’s backcourt partner, senior guard Ashley Pegram, will also take on scoring duties in the wake of Alaeze’s departure. The Richmond native was third on the team in scoring last year with 8.8 points per game on 45 percent shooting.
Other key returners for the Rams include junior forwards Curteeona Brelove and Camille Calhoun.
Calhoun appeared in seven games in 2015-16 before sitting out the rest of the season with a foot injury, but her pre-injury numbers leave Ram nation with something to look forward to this year.
Calhoun, a Bowie, Maryland native, averaged 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on just under 50 percent shooting from the field. She was also named Virginia Lottery Student-Athlete of the Week after her 20 points, 15 rebounds performance against Campbell University last November.
Pair those stats up with Brelove’s 5.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game performance in 2015-16 and the Rams have a dynamic front-court duo with a strong ability to score and a dominant rebounding presence down low.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this relatively new-look Rams squad is their incoming freshman class — consisting of a trio of three-star recruits. Guards Nyra Williams, Jailyn Maddox and Niya Johnson all received recruiting grades of 88 or better by ESPN, and Williams was named a top-30 point guard in the nation.
Then there’s freshman guard Danielle Hammond, a 6-foot-4 center who averaged more than three blocks per contest in high school and provides the aggressive ability to protect the paint.
O’Boyle said she looks forward to helping mold the four young Rams and seeing what they have in store for the Black and Gold.
“We are very excited about (this) recruiting class,” O’Boyle said. “Nyra, Danielle, Niya, and Jailyn are all high-quality student-athletes who will exceed both in the classroom and on the court. “
The Rams kick off their 2016-17 season Nov. 11 against Coppin State University at the Siegel Center. They will spend Thanksgiving weekend in Puerto Rico where they will take on American and Villanova Universities in the 2016 San Juan Shootout.
Nick Versaw, Contributing Writer