(Photo of Jeff Walz: Jared Anderson via the Atlantic Coast Conference)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As the Louisville women's basketball program progresses through the offseason, they haven't had a large amount of roster turnover, and have largely maintained a high level of continuity into the 2021-22 season.
Up to this point, the Cardinals have only lost two players to the transfer portal, Malea Williams and Elizabeth Balogun, and they graduated just one senior. That lone senior, however, just so happens to be Dana Evans - one of the greatest players in program history.
Supplanting the talent lost by Evans' departure, as well as the depth from losing Williams and Balogun, head coach Jeff Walz is bringing in four high quality newcomers to make up for.
Out of the portal, Walz landed Syracuse guard Emily Engstler and Vanderbilt guard Chelsie Hall. From the high school ranks, he is also bringing in guard Payton Verhulst and forward Sydni Schetnan.
Talking to the media for the first time since the end of Louisville's season, Walz couldn't help but contain his excitement for all four players he will be welcoming next season.
"Really, really excited about both them," Walz said Tuesday when asked about transfers Engstler and Hall. "Those two transfers are going to give us some instant minutes, being able to handle the college load."
Last season as a junior, Engstler nearly averaged a double-double, putting up 10.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 22 games for the Orange. Add her 37.1% three-point shooting percentage and 1.6 blocks per game, and Walz is excited about the 6-foot-1 guard's versatility.
"I think she will come in and be instant help. We needed some help in rebounding, we needed some just bigger wings, bigger guard area - because she can play the three, the four, the five if we have to," he said. "I think she's going to be a huge asset to our team this upcoming season."
Hall didn't get to display her talents much in Vanderbilt's eight-game 2020-21 season, but she was well established by then. The 5-foot-7 gyard started all 30 games as a junior, averaging 10.6 points and 3.9 assists, with Walz commending her skills as a floor general.
"Chelsea is a true point guard," he said. "She distributes it, she hasn't taken a ton of threes, because that's not what she's first looking to do. But she can make them. She can really run a team."
Of course, he had plenty of great things to say about Verhulst and Schetnan, even going as far to say both will be "fighting for minutes". Both are coming off of senior campaigns where they secured state championships for their respective schools. Verhulst averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.8 steals, 3.6 assists, and 3.5 blocks per game ; while Schetnan averaged 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds.
"Syd brings us some size at 6-5 that we need. She can block shots, she rebounds, and we'll continue to work on our offensive game. But she has the ability to step out and shoot the ball," Walz said. Then Payton - just really, really talented. Not one that's going to blow by you with amazing speed, but she's very crafty and understands how to play the game.
Combined with those four newcomers, as well as the already talented roster that he has, and Walz thinks his program will be continue to be a force in the ACC and nationally.
"We had a few that have moved on, but I really think we've added some really, really important pieces that can help us take that next step next year, and get back competing for another Final Four," he said.
Louisville still has two more available scholarships available, though Walz is unsure if he'll add more players to the roster. Mainly, he is waiting to see who enters the transfer portal between now and the start of the 2021-22 season.
Jeff Walz led Louisville to a 26-4 record last season, winning the ACC regular season title, claiming a berth in the ACC Championship game, as well as the Elite Eight as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They fell 78-63 to eventual national champion Stanford.
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