Loaded Roster has UPEI Panthers Gearing Up for Title Run in 2019-20

Ellsworth, Jenna Mae
Jenna Mae Ellsworth is one of seven returnees for the UPEI Panthers in 2019-20, making them one of the top teams in the country. (Source: The Guardian) (Header: The Guardian)

CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the women’s basketball program for the UPEI Panthers.

2018-19 in Review

The 2018-19 season ended in heartbreak for the UPEI Panthers, but it’s also helped to increase the level of excitement ahead of the 2019-20 season for the program.

All season long, the Panthers were among the top teams in the nation. Floating in and out of the U Sports Top 10 rankings throughout the year, the Panthers had their sights set on an AUS Championship and a spot at the National Championships.

Instead, a promising season ended much earlier than UPEI would have anticipated.

The Panthers posted a record of 17-3 during the regular season to finish second in the AUS standings. UPEI went a perfect 10-0 at home, while all three of their losses on the road were decided by 10 points or less. In the AUS playoffs, the Panthers had a bye into the semifinals, and they had their sights set on a title.

Instead, the AUS playoffs were filled with upsets, and the Panthers were one of the victims. After the Memorial Sea-hawks stunned the top-seed Cape Breton Capers in the first semi-final game, the Panthers took on the Acadia Axewomen for the chance to play for the AUS Championship. UPEI found themselves behind after three quarters, but they did their best to make things close in the fourth quarter.

Instead, the Panthers were unable to overcome the Axewomen, and their season came to an end with an 88-84 loss. Haley McDonald went for an AUS-record 51 points for Acadia in the win.

Down the stretch, the Panthers had just 10 players on their roster, making things a bit tougher as the year wound down. With that said, UPEI brings back the bulk of their production from last year’s team that knocked on the door in the AUS title race.

This year, they will look to kick the door down.

On the heels of last year’s successful regular season, the Panthers will be looking to avenge their semi-final loss to Acadia in 2019-20. Heading into 2019-20, the Panthers look like the team to beat in the conference.

Who’s Gone?

From last year’s team, the Panthers lose three players ahead of the 2019-20 season. One of the three players was the team’s third-leading scorer in 2018-19, dealing a blow on both ends of the floor. With that said, the Panthers will still return the bulk of their production in the new season.

The biggest loss from last year’s team that finished second in the league is forward Jane McLaughlin (Fortune, PEI). McLaughlin finished third on the team in scoring last season, averaging 9.0 points to go along with 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists. She was efficient from all areas of the floor, shooting 40.7% from the floor, 41.3% from three-point range, and 83.0% from the free throw line.

Also gone from last year’s team are Julie Campbell (Summerside, PEI) and Tamara Timm (Toronto, Ont.). Both players saw limited action during the year, but both brought a veteran presence to the mix on a daily basis. Replacing veteran experience and leadership doesn’t happen overnight, which makes the losses of Campbell and Timm more significant.

The list of departing athletes for the Panthers is a short one. With only one key offensive producer gone from last year’s team, UPEI is in good shape heading into 2019-20.

Who’s Back?

With the Panthers losing just three players from last year’s team, quick math indicates that the team returns 70% of their roster. The group of returnees includes a former AUS Rookie of the Year, the two-time defending AUS Defensive Player of the Year, and for players who averaged at least 8.8 points per game a year ago.

After leading the team on offense last season, hometown guard Jenna Mae Ellsworth (Charlottetown, PEI) is back and ready to lead the charge once more in 2019-20. Ellsworth led the Panthers with an average of 16.7 points to go along with 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Ellsworth shot 43.9% from the floor and 81.6% from the free throw line.

Over the course of the year, Ellsworth was as consistent as they come on offense. She recorded double-digit points in 18 of the Panthers’ 20 regular season games, and she went for at least 20 points on six occasions. Back on November 9th, Ellsworth went for 37 points in a narrow 73-70 loss to Acadia. Heading into 2019-20, Ellsworth will look to lead the Panthers on their road to redemption as they aim to make another run at the title.

Up front, forward Carolina Del Santo (Barcelona, Spain) is ready to wreak havoc on the defensive end of the floor again in 2019-20. Del Santo is the two-time defending AUS Defensive Player of the Year, and she is the nation’s top rebounding forward along with being one of the premier shot blockers. Last season, Del Santo led all of U Sports with 13.3 rebounds per game to go along with 8.8 points and 2.4 blocks.

On the glass, Del Santo was as good as they come. She recorded at least 10 rebounds in 16 regular season contests, and she recorded at least 18 rebounds on five separate occasions. Against Memorial on January 27th, Del Santo pulled down 22 rebounds. Heading into the 2019-20 season with two Defensive Player of the Year awards to her name, Del Santo will be an impact player once more for Panthers Head Coach Matt Gamblin and his staff.

Del Santo, Carolina
Forward Carolina Del Santo enters the 2019-20 season as the two-time defending AUS Defensive Player of the Year. Can she win a third this season to complete the hat trick? (Source: The Guardian)

Reese Baxendale (Sussex, NB) gives the Panthers yet another consistent presence on the offensive end, much like Ellsworth. Last season, Baxendale recorded at least six points in all 20 regular season games, averaging 13.3 points per game over the course of the year. In the opening series of the regular season, Baxendale posted a combined 50 points in two games against Memorial University, starting her season off on the right foot.

Down the stretch, Karla Yepez (Quito, Ecuador) showed flashes of consistency on the offensive end. While she was a bit streaky in terms of offensive production throughout the regular season, Yepez closed the year with three-straight games in double figures. She averaged 8.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game last season, bringing a strong two-way presence to the floor overall.

The Panthers also welcome back Kimesha Henry (Ajax, Ont.), Lauren Fleming (Sussex, NB), and Annabelle Charron (Charlottetown, PEI), giving the team three more veterans to add to the mix. Henry and Fleming both saw the floor in all 20 regular season games last season, while all three players gave the team solid production in limited minutes throughout the year.

“This year’s team is an interesting mix because we bring back a good amount of our core roster,” said Coach Gamblin. “Only ending the season with 10 players last year meant we were going to run into this spot where we have lots of veteran experience as well as lots of youthful exuberance.”

For UPEI, they return seven players but add seven newcomers to the mix, all of whom will look to help the team bounce back from last year’s early exit in the AUS playoffs.

Incoming Talent

With having just 10 players at the end of last season, and seven returnees heading into the new season, the Panthers knew they were going to have a significant recruiting class. In total, they have added seven players to their roster for the 2019-20 season, adding depth and talent up and down.

The most notable addition for the Panthers this season is guard Lexi MacInnis (Stratford, PEI). Last season, MacInnis played for the Holland College Hurricanes, where she was named to the ACAA All-Conference First Team. MacInnis averaged a team-best 14.0 points per game on 33.4% shooting from the floor. She added 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest.

Bringing MacInnis into the mix adds more talent on both sides of the ball, which is never a bad thing to have.

In total, the Panthers add six different players from the Maritimes and one from Toronto to complete their recruiting class. Guard Lauren Rainford (Toronto, Ont.) is heading to the East Coast for her collegiate career, and the 5’10” guard brings size to the back court rotation.

UPEI welcome five more players from the Maritimes to the mix along with MacInnis. Lauren Harris (Saint John, NB), Reilly Sullivan (Quispamsis, NB), Madison Orser (Halifax, NS), Ashleigh Marshall (Fall River, NS), and hometown guard Sydney Whitlock (Charlottetown, PEI) will all bring depth and talent to the mix for Coach Gamblin and his staff this season.

“This year’s incoming rookies all bring a lot of grittiness and toughness to the table,” added Gamblin. “They are all extremely hard workers and will push our veteran players.”

“I am looking forward to a very competitive and growth-oriented environment.”

On the heels of a successful regular season, last year ultimately ended with heartbreak for the Panthers. UPEI had title aspirations, but those were axed by Acadia in the AUS semifinals.

Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Panthers are hoping that this year will be different. On paper, the Panthers have a veteran team that will be one of the top programs in the country. With the bulk of their offensive production back from last year’s team that went 17-3, a group that includes eight of their top nine scorers, the Panthers have a team that can contend atop the U Sports rankings this season.

The race in the AUS is always tough, and every game will be a challenge. The Panthers have proven they can weather the storm, and with one of the best home court advantages in the conference, the Panthers will look to use that to their advantage and make another run at the title.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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