MUWBB Nuggets: What to watch for in season lid-lifter

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Marquette women’s basketball breaks down after a practice in September. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

The Marquette women’s basketball team begins its fourth season under head coach Megan Duffy Monday afternoon inside the Al McGuire Center when it takes on Fairleigh Dickinson University at 12 p.m. CST. 

Coming off a 23-11 season, which saw a run to the third round of the WNIT, the Golden Eagles were picked to finish sixth in the Big East in the conferences’ coaches’ preseason poll.

How to Watch the Game? 

The game will be streamed by the Big East Digital Network on FloSports. You can watch the game on the FloSports app or on flohoops.com. Note, a subscription is required.

How to Listen to the Game? 

Marquette University Radio will have the call starting at 12 p.m. CST on marquettewire.org/mur. Jack Lewandowski and Trevor Hilson will have the play-by-play and color commentary duties, respectively.

Who to Follow for Live Updates? 

@benschultz52, @JackAlbrightMU and @MUWireSports 

Projected Starters:

No. 32 Liza Karlen (6-2, Jr., F): Karlen enters her junior year after ending last season strong. The St. Paul, Minnesota native led the Golden Eagles with a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game after starting 26 of 31 games.

No. 52 Chloe Marotta (6-1, Sr., F): Marotta enters her last season at Marquette after starting every game last season. She posted a 1.49 assist-to-turnover ratio, which was seventh in the Big East. She earned four double-doubles and scored in double-figures eight times.

No. 23 Jordan King (5-11, Sr., G): King made the Preseason All-Big East team after averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest. 

No. 1 Nia Clark (5-9, Sr., G): Clark enters her first season with Marquette after one three seasons at Xavier University, where she served as a team captain.

No. 0 Julianna Okosun (6-4, Jr., F): The junior forward from Copenhagen hasn’t seen much time in two seasons with the Golden Eagles, but has an opportunity to get time this season with Van Kleunen gone. 

Reserves:

No. 2 Aizhanique Mayo (5-8, Fr., G): Mayo was a four-year letter winner at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Fairfield, Connecticut. The 5-foot-eight guard led her high school to its first-ever state title as a senior in 2021-22. 

No. 3 Rose Nkumu (5-7, Jr., G): Last season, Nkumu showed flashes of her skills but struggled towards the end of the season. She averaged 1.9 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 31 appearances. 

No. 5 Charia Smith (6-1, Fr., F): The Columbus, Ohio forward earned All-Ohio Division I Second Team honors her senior year after averaging 20.1 points per game. 

No. 10 Claire Kaifes (5-11, Sr., G): Kaifes redshirted last season as she recovered from an ACL injury.

No. 12 Mackenzie Hare (5-9, Fr., G): Hare finished her career with 2,494 points and 398 made 3-pointers, the fourth-most in Illinois state history.

No. 21 Emily LaChapell (5-11, Fr., G): LaChapell was ranked as a four-star prospect by ESPN, the 23rd-ranked guard and 77th-ranked player overall in the 2022 recruiting class. 

No. 24 Makiyah Williams (6-0, So., F): Williams averaged five minutes in 15 appearances last season, netting a career-high eight points against Alcorn. 

No. 44 Kennedi Myles (6-2, Sr., F): Myles comes into her second season at Marquette after spending her first two years at college at the University of Illinois. Last season, Myles averaged 2.0 points and 3.2 rebounds in 11.0 minutes per contest while earning two starts. 

Nirel Lougbo (5-10, Sr., G): Lougbo will not play this season as she is medically disqualified from participating.

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Here are five things to watch this season: 

1. Kaifes returns from injury

After sitting out for the entirety of last season rehabbing from a torn ACL injury, senior guard Claire Kaifes is working her way back into Duffy’s rotation.

Kaifes showed flashes of becoming a key contributor for the Golden Eagles back in the 2020-21 campaign before her injury as she shot 34% from beyond the arc.

The question becomes, what is Kaifes’ role early on in the season and where does she fall in Duffy’s rotation?

As a player, I’m a little bit more confident. I had a lot of time to watch games last year and really absorb what coach was saying, while not being on the court,” Kaifes said. “I definitely feel like I’m back 100%.”

But regardless, Kaifes said she is set to contribute anyway she can for her team.

“Whatever Coach Duffy puts her faith in me to do, I will 100% try to do to the best of my ability,” Kaifes said. 

2. Who is going to fill McLaughlin’s shoes?

In her lone season with the Golden Eagles, Karissa McLaughlin made her impact felt especially from the 3-point line as she shot 87-of-120 3-pointers a season ago for Marquette. And of the 87, McLaughlin connected on 41.6% of them.

McLaughlin’s absence leaves a gap offensively for Marquette, making it difficult for the Golden Eagles to stretch the court.

“We lost some scoring for sure, obviously, inside and outside,” Duffy said. “I think we’re going to be able to spread the floor and shoot the three a little bit more.”

Players such as Karlen, who shot 45.3% from the field last season, will have to step up and score for the Golden Eagles.

3. How will Clark perform this season?

Clark was the lone transfer this offseason for Marquette, coming from Big East foe Xavier where she averaged 11.7 points, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals in 17 games played. 

The senior guard is a familiar face to Duffy as Clark played for her at Miami (Ohio) back in 2018, when Duffy was the head coach of the Redhawks.

“We’ve both grown up a lot. My first head coaching job, she was just a young baby trying to figure out life and it’s cool to have her back here,” Duffy said. “She’s doing great. She brings a different athleticism and competitiveness to us.”

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4. Duffy’s first in-state and top-100 recruit at Marquette

Emily LaChapell is Duffy’s first in-state and top-100 recruit at Marquette. From Appleton, Wisconsin, the first-year guard left Appleton East High School as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,885 points. 

Coming into this season, Duffy said she is a multi-level scorer who has been able to learn basketball at the college level quickly. 

“(I’ve) been so impressed with her IQ sometimes as freshmen are good players, great players,” Duffy said. “But the speed of the game, the physicality, being in a college program, it’s not the same obviously.”

LaChapell’s teammates Kaifes and Karlen have described her as a “sponge,” always wanting to learn more and improve. 

Her versatile scoring ability coupled with the want to enhance her skillset makes her a person to keep a close eye on this season.

5. Karlen’s new role on the team

Junior forward Liza Karlen is stepping into more of a leadership role for the Golden Eagles this year. After losing Lauren Van Kleunen, who was at Marquette for six years, Karlen said she sees herself as more of a leader. 

“I’ve always kind of prided myself on [helping with] whatever the team needs,” Karlen said. “I think stepping up, taking more of a role in that (rebounding) and doing whatever my teammates need.”

Karlen ended last season strong, appearing in the Big East Weekly Honor Roll three times in the latter half of the season. In her final six games, she averaged at least 10 points and scored a season-high 26 points against DePaul in March. 

“The way she finished the year last year, she’s taking on a new role,” Duffy said about Karlen. “That means a little bit of up and down.”

This article was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JackAlbrightMU.