Purdue Women’s Basketball Off-Season Primer

On the heels of the first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016-17, Purdue women’s basketball now turns its attention to the future. The 2023 off-season could be an eventful one for the Boilermakers with a handful of players exiting the program, transfer portal shopping, and an intriguing freshmen class set to step on campus.

Boilermakers Exiting The Program:

The Boilermakers are set to lose four players this off-season with two of them being key pieces on last year’s team. Lasha Petree and Cassidy Hardin each had significant impacts on the Boilermakers in 2022-23.

Hardin was the heart and soul of the program, being called the team “mom” by senior guard Abbey Ellis and the bridge between the players and the coaching staff. Hardin’s veteran presence will be missed on next year’s squad, along with her willingness to do the dirty work and knock down threes, in which she led the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s leading scorer, Lasha Petree, also departs as she looks to make it in the professional ranks moving forward. In just one year with Purdue, Petree was Katie Gearlds’ go-to option offensively, scoring a team-high 14.7 points per game while also pacing the Boilermakers in three-point percentage.

The losses of both Petree and Hardin will leave a void in leadership and three-point shooting, which will have to be filled by the likes of Abbey Ellis, Madison Layden, Jayla Smith, and the incoming freshmen class.

A pair of reserve forwards will also leave the program this off-season, leaving depth in the frontcourt as an issue the Boilermakers will have to address. The graduating Rickie Woltman and transfer-bound Lilly Stoddard did not have large roles for Purdue last season.

After starting most of her junior year, Woltman saw her minutes decrease with the addition of Caitlyn Harper in 2022-23. The 6’4″ post player averaged 12.5 minutes, scoring 3.7 points and grabbing 3.2 rebounds per game. Woltman was the compliment to Harper off the bench, providing Purdue with more of a rebounder and rim protector than the latter.

Woltman’s departure was expected as she had been with Purdue for four years, but Stoddard’s exit has more of an impact on the future. The former four-star recruit entered the transfer portal ahead of the Big Ten Tournament in search of greener pastures. After seeing action in just five games during her freshman season, Stoddard would have seen an increased role heading into 2023 as a role player for the Boilermakers off the bench.

Returning starter Caitlyn Harper and reserve Ava Learn are the only two traditional forwards on the roster as the off-season begins. At the same time, freshmen Mary Ashley Groot will join the two when she arrives on campus this summer. Purdue’s lack of frontcourt depth gives the impression that the coaching staff will look in the transfer portal for additional help.

Dipping Into The Portal?

As the transfer portal continues to take over the college sports off-season, Purdue could also see players exit the program through the portal. Katie Gearlds has become accustomed to watching players walk away from Purdue during her short tenure in West Lafayette.

Over the last two off-seasons, Purdue has seen nearly a dozen players enter the transfer portal. Following the 7-16 campaign in 2020-21, Kayana Traylor, Karissa McLaughlin, Tamara Farquhar, Fatou Diagne, and Bria Harmon all left the team. The following year, Brooke Moore, Rokia Doumbia, Roxanne Mokolo, Ra Shaya Kyle, Mide Oriyomi, and Nyagoa Gony departed.

Aside from forward Lilly Stoddard, it is unknown at this time who could enter their name in the transfer portal. If history is any indication, she might not be alone.

While Purdue has seen many players exit through the portal, Katie Gearlds has been active in adding transfers to the roster in her own right. This season, the starting lineup consisted of four players that started their careers elsewhere in Harper, Petree, Abbey Ellis, and Jeanae Terry. Gearlds has found success in the transfers she’s brought in, and that pursuit of college talent will likely continue this off-season.

With the current roster construction, Purdue has a handful of needs they could choose to address in the portal. Frontcourt depth is likely the top priority for the Boilermakers, as they are set to have three traditional forwards heading into next season.

One name that jumps out as a potential target is former Minnesota center Rose Micheaux, who entered the transfer portal following Lindsay Whalen’s resignation as the Gophers’ head coach. Micheaux averaged 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting nearly 52% from the field. The All-Big Ten honorable mention standout would give Purdue another post player that could make an immediate impact next season.

Frontcourt depth isn’t the only need for the Boilermakers next season. As Petree and Hardin leave, so do their combined 291 games played and 108 three-pointers made. Purdue has a few experienced guards who can knock down threes, including Abbey Ellis, Jayla Smith, and Madison Layden.

While those three are expected to battle for starting positions, the second unit is intriguing but unproven. The Boilermakers could add another experienced wing with the ability to shoot threes to help solidify the backcourt depth. Purdue has not been tied to any transfer portal targets at this time, but that could change in the coming days and weeks.

Where Will The Incoming Freshmen Fit In?

Katie Gearlds will welcome her first full recruiting class to campus this summer. The Boilermakers’ five-player 2023 class was ranked No. 21 in the country by ESPN and includes a pair of highly touted prospects that will be making their way to West Lafayette.

The headliners of the class are four-star recruits and ESPN Top 100 members Rashunda Jones and Mary Ashley Groot. The point guard and forward are viewed as the future of the Purdue women’s basketball program as they prepare to step on campus.

Jones was a candidate for the coveted Miss Basketball award in Indiana after averaging 19.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.3 steals per game for South Bend Washington. She shared the spotlight with Maryland recruit Amiyah Reynolds in high school but was still among the state’s most productive players during her career.

She is a force defensively, which is how she earned the nickname “Spider” from her long reach and ability to get in passing lanes. Jones can also score at all three levels, including from the perimeter, where she was a 45% three-point shooter as a senior. Expect the incoming point guard to be one of the top players off the bench and potentially play her way into the starting lineup at some point during her freshman season.

The other top recruit coming to campus ahead of next season is standout forward Mary Ashley Groot. She eclipsed 2,500 points and 1,500 rebounds in February as she wrapped up her six-year high school basketball career. The 6’2″ Groot can play the four or five for Katie Gearlds and will push for a starting spot as a true freshman if she impresses during the preseason.

Purdue will also welcome three wings into the fold next season in McKenna Layden, Emily Monson, and Sophie Swanson.

Layden was named an Indiana All-Star last week after a standout career at Northwestern High School in Kokomo. She is the younger sister of Madison Layden and will join her with the Boilermakers for at least one season. Layden averaged 21.6 points per game, shooting 45% from the field and 41% from three-point range. The Kokomo native can play both on and off the ball and will most likely play the two or three with the Boilermakers, providing elite shooting and solid defense on the other end of the floor.

While Layden will likely play more in the backcourt, 6’0″ wing Emily Monson will join the older Layden and Jayla Smith on the wing for Katie Gearlds. Monson posted a line of 15.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting over 40% from three-point range this season. She had a career-high 28 assists in 33 games as a senior, which suggests she could be used as more of a sharpshooter than a combo guard.

The final member of the five-player class, Sophie Swanson, presents a question mark heading into next season. Swanson suffered a torn ACL in February, which could hold her out of off-season workouts completely. The Barrington, Illinois guard can score at all three levels and has elite scoring ability, dropping a school-record 40 points in a game during her junior season.

Layden, Monson, and Swanson should all have roles off the bench for Katie Gearlds and will be looked upon to have immediate impacts to help complement the returning starters.

The Returning Cast:

While Purdue is set to lose a number of players in the coming weeks and months, a stable core of contributors will be returning. At the top of that list is a trio of Boilermakers who each held significant roles with the Boilermakers this past season.

In the backcourt, the Abbey Ellis and Jeanae Terry duo are set to return as an experienced pairing and continue their success as a 1-2 punch for Katie Gearlds. The two complement each other well, as Terry brings the facilitating ability while Ellis is more of a scoring guard. Ellis scored 20+ points four times in 2022-23, three of which came during Purdue’s midseason surge when they knocked off Illinois and Ohio State in late January. After Lasha Petree’s departure, Ellis could assume the role of the go-to scorer out of the backcourt for the Boilermakers.

The other top returning Boilermaker is soon-to-be sixth-year forward Caitlyn Harper. The Cal Baptist transfer became Purdue’s top weapon in the post last season and is projected to same a similar role with the team next year. Her rebounding ability leaves a bit to be desired, but the ability to score around the basket and step out to knock down threes makes Harper a dangerous matchup for opposing bigs. Harper got a taste of her first NCAA Tournament in 2023 and will be a big part of Purdue’s efforts to begin a new March Madness streak.

Although Purdue is losing two starters in Lasha Petree and Cassidy Hardin, a pair of wings are set to replace them. Madison Layden and Jayla Smith are the most likely candidates to slide into the starting lineup next year for Katie Gearlds.

Layden has shown the ability to be a focal point of the offense for Purdue as she led the team in scoring two years ago, averaging 11.6 points per game. She began the season on track to duplicate that success, reaching double-figures in four of her first six games. Following that stretch, she scored ten or more points just three more times the rest of the season.

Layden does bring other things to the table, however, as she was second in both rebounds and assists per game while being one of the top defenders for the Boilermakers last season. Ellis and Harper are expected to carry the scoring load next season, but if Layden can regain her shooting touch, she will emerge as another reliable option for Katie Gearlds.

The breakout candidate in next year’s group is a soon-to-be junior wing, Jayla Smith. Smith came to Purdue in 2021 as the reigning Miss Basketball in Indiana. The long wing has improved each year she’s been on campus, increasing her scoring output from 4.7 to 7.8 and making strides on the defensive end of the floor. She reached double figures nine times as a sophomore.

As a starting role is for the taking, Smith is primed for a breakout season in West Lafayette as a junior. Katie Gearlds will ask more of the Indianapolis product heading into the summer and next season.

Off the bench, Purdue has three players already with the program, but just one who has seen significant minutes during her college career. Forward Ava Learn is expected to be the most experienced player in the second unit as things currently stand. However, she has yet to find a consistent role for Katie Gearlds.

Learn played only 9.4 minutes per game last year, a dip from the 12.2 minutes she played as a freshman. She was used primarily as a four, playing alongside Rickie Woltman, and provided energy and defense for the Boilermakers this past season. As the roster is currently constructed, Learn would be the primary reserve behind incumbent starter Caitlyn Harper.

The Boilermakers also have a pair of young guards that could see an increased role moving forward. Ainhoa Holzer is the point guard of the 2022 recruiting class but was unable to get on the court last year following a torn ACL. Holzier is a wild card after coming to West Lafayette from Switzerland, where she was named the 2022 Swiss Basketball League Sixth Woman of the Year and Most Improved Player.

Holzer is a pass-first point guard who can also get to the basket at times. She could emerge as the facilitator for the second unit next season with the Boilermakers.

The other remaining player from last year’s recruiting class is Addison Potts, who had a nearly identical season as now former Boilermaker Lilly Stoddard. Potts saw action in five games, scoring a total of two points all of last season. As the bench lacks proven shooters, Potts may provide shot-making ability on the wing on the second unit.

Purdue will head into the 2023-24 season with a strong core of key contributors while providing a number of younger players the opportunity to earn more significant roles.

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