Our Comings and Goings series continues with a preview of what figures to be the best Old Dominion team in several years.
The series thus far:
VCU: Comings and Goings
Virginia Tech: Comings and Goings
On deck: Hampton, Radford.
On deck: Hampton, Radford.
Laquanda Younger - A key contributor from 3-point range her first three seasons, Younger appeared in just 14 games last season before shutting it down with back problems.
Trina Patterson - Barefoot nabbed the veteran Patterson off the staff of mighty Stanford in 2013. But as a three-time former Division I head coach, from the day Patterson arrived it seemed only a matter of time before school No. 4 would offer up its main job. That time came last April, when UNC Greensboro tabbed Patterson to replace Wendy Palmer as the Spartans head coach.
Manaya Jones - A 6-4 post player and arguably the most highly touted true freshman Barefoot has lured to ODU (former point guard GG Goodhope got a lot of national recruiting love, too). The Lady
Monarchs are well-stocked with veteran bigs, but if Jones can catch on quickly, her ability to score in the low box could earn her minutes right away.
Jessica Munoz - The 6-2 forward totaled more than 2,000 points and 1,200 rebounds in her high school career, and already Barefoot has raved about her versatility. Now, to be fair, Barefoot raves about every player she's coached. But after watching Munoz at a recent practice, we see the coach's point.
Carley Brew - The 6-0 forward saw limited minutes as a freshman at JMU and transferred midway through 2015-16. Her meager JMU stats (8 points, 13 rebounds on the season) tell us little, but here's what her Philadelphia Belles AAU coach, Sean Costello, told us about Brew prior to her arrival in Harrisonburg: "The best way to describe Carley is she plays like a football player. She was on a loaded team with some really good players, and Carley played harder than any of them. Super, super aggressive, and can jump out of the gym. A rebounding machine." Brew will be eligible to play at ODU after the first semester.
Kelly Loftus - A two-time All-CAA pick (third team) and Hofstra's leading scorer the past two seasons who transferred after three seasons with the Pride. Loftus will sit out this season and has just the 2017-18 season to play. Still, this is an excellent get for Old Dominion.
Ashley Langford - Former Naval Academy assistant and ex-Tulane point guard supreme replaces Patterson on the ODU staff. Regarded as an ace recruiter.
Old Dominion fans, this could be the season you've been waiting for.
Once perennial NCAA tournament qualifiers, the recent-vintage Lady Monarchs haven't earned invites to the sport's marquee event since 2008. But as Barefoot approaches her sixth season, several factors - an impact star (Jennie Simms) surrounded by a loaded veteran roster and the momentum from a red-hot finish in 2015-16 among them - suggest this should easily be the best ODU squad in years.
Take another look at that "goings" section. That's right, the Lady Monarchs return essentially their entire 2015-16 team, the same cast of characters that played at a Top-50 level down the stretch and came within a game of winning the Conference USA tournament title.
And this doesn't include redshirt junior forward Odegua Oigbokie, a part-time starter her first two seasons before sitting out last season with a knee injury, and point guard Makayla Timmons, who started 11 games last year before also succumbing to a knee injury. Or the promising newcomers.
In each of the past three seasons, it's taken the Lady Monarchs about 20 games to play consistent winning basketball from game to game, in large part because each time, Barefoot has had to either force-feed minutes to true freshmen or nurse someone in a new role.
This season, practices figure to be ultra-competitive, and every minute should be earned. As a result, barring injuries, there's no excuse for coming to a slow boil in 2016-17. If this team needs two-thirds of a season to find itself, something is seriously wrong.
Of course, for all of ODU's depth, the team's outlook wouldn't look nearly as rosy if the do-it-all Simms, a two-time first-team all-conference pick, had elected to forego her redshirt senior season and turn pro. But after what she said was careful deliberation, Simms opted to return - largely because of a strong bond with her head coach.
"I want to win a championship under Coach Barefoot," Simms said.
Whether the Lady Monarchs can deliver that elusive title will hinge in part upon the quality of help Simms receives, particularly on offense. For while Simms averaged a robust 21.3 ppg, no other ODU player averaged in double figures (although Destinee Young came close at 9.9 ppg). And this isn't just a one-year deal, either - Simms was ODU's only double-digit scorer in 2014-15, as was Shae Kelley in 2013-14.
We're pretty confident the Lady Monarchs will play their usual physical, well-schemed defense, and Barefoot's recent teams typically can rebound with virtually anyone. But for this team to max out, it would help if one or two players could consistently relieve Simms of some of the scoring load.
Young, a senior forward, is a prime candidate for a offensive breakout, as are junior 3-point shooter deluxe "Downtown" Keyana Brown and first-team all-interview senior forward Ije Ajemba. Also keep an eye on sophomore guard Gianna Smith, who in freshman flashes showed that she knows how to get hers. And while we're not sure how many points she'll deliver, we're intrigued by the way Barefoot and Simms paid glowing tribute to the improvement in junior guard Ashley Jackson, who after two tough seasons is now in tip-top shape and ready to fight for a spot.
With all this going for ODU, the floor for this team should be as a strong C-USA contender and a surefire WNIT squad. And the ceiling? Well, after eight straight years of sitting out the NCAAs, if things break right a return to the national tournament is a distinct possibility.
Season opener: Norfolk State on Nov. 18