St. Mary’s University Lightning Have Sights Set on Contending for Another ACAC Championship in 2019-20

Wagner, Emily
Leading scorer Emily Wagner is one of several key pieces back for the Lightning in 2019-20 as they look to contend for another ACAC Championship. (Source: St. Mary’s University Athletics) (Header: St. Mary’s University Athletics)

CALGARY, Alta. — 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 St. Mary’s University Lightning women’s basketball program..

2018-19 in Review

With each passing year, it seems as though the St. Mary’s University Lightning are always in contention for an ACAC Championship. Even if they don’t finish atop the South Division standings, the Lightning are a team that could get hot at any moment and make a run through the post-season.

The 2018-19 season gave St. Mary’s another chance at making a run at the title. The Lightning finished in a tie for third place in the division with the Lethbridge College Kodiaks, but due to a tiebreaker, the Lightning was the fourth seed from the division in the playoffs.

After winning the 2018 ACAC Championship and advancing to the CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship, the Lightning were looking to make it back-to-back appearances on the biggest stage. In their quarter-final game, the Lightning took on the top seed from the North Division, the Lakeland College Rustlers. St. Mary’s couldn’t find a rhythm on offense, and the defense for the Rustlers helped carry them to a 67-44 victory.

With the loss, the Lightning were sent to the Consolation Bracket. In their next game, they took on the NAIT Ooks with a spot in the 5th/6th Place game on the line. St. Mary’s bounced back in a big way with a strong performance on both ends of the floor. The Lightning came away with a 66-51 victory over the Ooks to extend their season one more game.

Against NAIT, the Lightning led 45-18 at halftime and never looked back. They outscored the Ooks by a 25-4 margin in the second quarter to blow the game open.

In the Consolation Final, the Lightning had to face the top seed from the South Division. The Medicine Hat Rattlers were upset in their quarter-final game, and both teams were looking to end their season on a winning note. The Lightning kept it close all contest long, but the Rattlers would come away with the 84-77 win to cap off their season.

While the Lightning were unable to make another memorable run to Nationals, they performed will in the tough ACAC South Division. They posted a 13-8 record in the regular season, and they have their sights set on more this season.

Heading into 2019-20, the Lightning have their share of talent up and down their roster. They return their top two scorers from last year along with some key depth pieces, all while adding experience and talent on the transfer market.

Who’s Gone?

As stated above, the Lightning have the luxury of their top two scorers returning in 2019-20. However, they do lose a total of six players from last year’s team, three of whom were key contributors on both sides of the ball.

In terms of production, the biggest loss is Sydney Deighton (Calgary, Alta.). The hometown product is the top departing scorer from last year’s team, as she averaged an even 10.0 points per game in 2018-19. Deighton also posted 5.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game for a strong two-way stat line.

Kennedy Burgess (Okotoks, Alta.) is also gone from the Lightning, and she posted a similar stat line to that of Deighton. For the year, Burgess posted 9.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per contest. She was effective from long range throughout the year, hitting on 44.1% of her attempts from three-point range.

Rounding out the group of key losses is Joy Victor (Tortola, British Virgin Islands). Victor averaged 4.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season, and she is the top departing rebounder in the graduating class. She was one of five players to average at least 4.0 rebounds per game last season for the Lightning.

All three departures will impact the team both on and off the court. The on-court production that they put forth each night out can be replaced, but their experience and leadership will be tough to replicate.

Rounding out the departures are Danielle Wilson (Lacombe, Alta.), Louise Nlandu (Calgary, Alta.), and Abigail Griffiths (Okotoks, Alta.).

The Lightning will look somewhat different next season, given their key losses. With that said, they return two of the most consistent scorers in the CCAA, and the Lightning have a pair of players who could be in for breakout seasons of their own in 2019-20.

Who’s Back?

While they lose six faces from last year’s team, the Lightning bring back their top two scorers and their top rebounder in 2019-20. Add in a pair of potential breakout players off the bench, and St. Mary’s has a roster that could very well contend for another ACAC title.

Leading the way is hometown talent Emily Wagner (Calgary, Alta.). Wagner was one of the best offensive players in the ACAC last season and is a name that the rest of the CCAA should put on notice. Wagner finished second in the ACAC with 22.2 points per game, and she ranked third in the league in three-point shooting. She hit on 41.4% of her attempts from long range last season.

Wagner was as steady as they come on offense in 2018-19. She recorded double-digit points in 20 of the Lightning’s 21 regular season games. Wagner topped 20 points on 15 occasions, and she went for at least 30 points in four of those games. She shot 41.1% from the floor for the year, highlighting her effectiveness on offense. Add in her 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game and you can see why she’s among the nation’s best.

Joining Wagner for another season with the Lightning is guard Hannah Helton (Okotoks, Alta.). Last season, Helton recorded double-digit points on 17 occasions, topping the 20-point plateau in five of those 17 games. She finished second on the team with an average of 14.4 points to go along with 2.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.

Helton was a volume shooter last season, attempting 15 or more field goals in 14 games. She shot 32.3% from the field and 26.7% from three-point range. If Helton can trim her attempts down slightly and look to get teammates involved, her production and efficiency will increase as a result. Still, Helton is a player who can carry the offense when her shot does start to fall with consistency, making her a threat to go off on any given night.

Up front, Chayle Clark (Okotoks, Alta.) gives the Lightning an impact player on the glass. Clark led the team with an average of 7.2 rebounds per game last season to go along with her 5.4 points and 1.4 steals. She had at least five rebounds on 15 occasions. Against the Red Deer College Queens on January 4th, the first game of the winter term, Clark pulled down 22 rebounds, 14 of which came on the defensive end.

Alba Vera Ponte (Vilassar de Mar, Barcelona) saw the floor in just 12 games last season, bur Shoults is excited to see what she can bring to the table in 2019-20. In limited action, she averaged 1.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game while shooting 50.0% from the field. As one of the two key returning post players, Vera Ponte should take on a much larger role this season.

Rounding out the group of returnees is Danya Osterling (Calgary, Alta.). Osterling saw the floor in all 21 games last season, averaging 9.7 minutes per contest. She posted 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game while shooting 32.7% from the floor and 68.8% from the free throw line.

“We return a core group from last year and a group that we can build around,” said Shoults. “We are looking for Hannah Helton to have a break-out year and be anchored by our two returning posts [Clark and Vera Ponte].”

If a player who averaged 14.4 points a season ago is due for a ‘breakout’ season, the rest of the ACAC could be in trouble. The pair of Wagner and Helton gives the Lightning one of the top duos in the conference, and they will be looking to guide the team on another playoff run. They won’t have to do it alone, as St. Mary’s has a loaded recruiting class, one that will bolster the roster in stages as the year moves along.

Incoming Talent

The 2019-20 recruiting class for the Lightning is an intriguing one. It has multiple levels of impact for the program, both in the upcoming season and into the future. In total, the Lightning have added six players to the mix, three of which comes from around the ACAC.

In terms of transfer players, St. Mary’s has added a pair of veterans who can help the program from the outset of the season. The pair of Juhee Anderson (Cardston, Alta.) and Madi Gladstone (Salt Lake City, Utah) come to the Lightning from Lethbridge College, and they give the Lightning a massive boost in terms of both talent and experience.

Last season, Anderson posted 14.8 points per game for the Kodiaks. Gladstone averaged 7.3 points per game herself over the regular season. Both players will look to have an impact for Shoults and the Lightning from the outset of the year.

Hansen, Jaiden
Remaining in Calgary, Jaiden Hansen will suit up for the Lightning in the winter term after transferring from the SAIT Trojans. (Source: Okotoks Western Wheel)

The third and final ACAC transfer will look to have a major impact in the winter term with the Lightning. Guard Jaiden Hansen (Okotoks, Alta.) comes to St. Mary’s from the SAIT Trojans, and she will give her new team a deep threat on offense. Hansen will sit out the fall semester, but she will be ready to see game action come the 2020 calendar year.

From there, the Lightning have added three players from the high school ranks that will help the program both now and for years to come. Lola Hall, Karen Marin, and Maya Sinclair will look to contribute right away as they get set to begin their collegiate careers in 2019-20.

With six players on their way out after last season, the Lightning have added six new faces to the mix. Some can help right away, while one will add her name to the mix in 2020. All six will help shape the future of the program, while also trying to make the present a time to remember.

Year after year, the Lightning are a team that can contend atop the ACAC South Division standings, and a playoff run is never out of the question.

On the heels of their worst finish in a few years, the Lightning will be motivated in 2019-20. They will have a chip on their shoulder, and they will be looking to prove that last season was a fluke. With their top two scorers being joined by three ACAC transfers, all of whom can impact the game on both ends, the Lighting have a group that will be looking to make a deep playoff run.

Head Coach Steve Shoults will have his team ready to compete in the tough ACAC South Division, and they have their sights set on being the ones to represent the league at Nationals come March.

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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