The Women’s NCAA Division 1 class of 2023-24 currently totals 27 female Kiwi athletes; 10 Seniors, 6 Juniors, 5 Sophomores and 6 Freshman.
This just one shy of the record number of 28 Kiwi players who graced the Division I courts last year. It also extends to nine years our run of having 20+ female players in NCAA Division I, with this number only hitting double figures for the first time in 2011-12; showing the continued growth of women’s basketball in New Zealand and overseas.
Charlisse Leger-Walker heads into her fourth season at Washington State University with fellow Tall Ferns Tayla Dalton (St Mary’s, California) and Grace Hunter (California State University, Bakersfield) amongst a large crop of seniors.
Barring injury, Leger-Walker will become New Zealand’s all-time leading scorer (male or female) in NCAA Division I basketball this season. Already with 1,465 career points, she only requires another 183 points to surpass the 1,647 points scored by Erin Rooney (Monmouth University, 2009-11 & Fordham University, 2012-14).
With 84 appearances under her, belt Leger-Walker also looks certain to play 100 Division 1 games – a mark reached by 26 New Zealand women previously. Also closing in on a century of appearances are Dalton (90), Emme Shearer (88), Helen Matthews (82), Charlotte Whittaker (81) and Tara Manumaleuga (81).
At the other end of the experience spectrum, nine players are poised to play their first season of Division I basketball; Florence Dallow (University of Portland) Maia Jones (St Mary’s College, California),
Mackenzie Chatfield (Western Kentucky University), Izzy Pugh (Wisconsin Milwauke University), Lilly Taulelei (University of Massachusetts) and Vitolia Tuilave (Wofford College) are all freshmen, while three players impressed in the 2022-23 collegiate season to earn Division I scholarships.
Lilly Parke – now at Fairleigh Dickinson University – played at Division II school Auburn University at Montgomery last year while the Mafua sisters, Jenna Rose and Leah, have played a couple of years in Junior College ahead of debuting at the University of Central Arkansas.
*Note this list is of players known at the time of writing. It’s possible there may be some players absent from this list with players often moving, or travelling to the USA without publicising their plans, or may yet to be announced by teams.
Kaitlin Burgess (Senior at Boise State University)
Burgess joined Boise State in 2021-22 after a successful two years at Southern Idaho Golden Eagles Junior College. Unfortunately her season was cut short by an injury after just 10 games, forcing her to miss the bulk of that season and all of 2022-23. She left Rangitoto College after year 12 and completed her secondary education at Riverton High School, Utah.
Career Stats: GP 10 | Points 43
Tayla Dalton (Senior at St Mary’s College, California)
Played 31 games, with 24 starts, for the Gaels in 2022-23. Led the team in steals (36) and third on the team in scoring (7.4ppg). Made a career best six 3-pointers (6/10) at Montana State in December.
Dalton scored 7 points on debut for the Tall Ferns against Serbia in Belgrade in June 2023 and was a member of the team that finished fourth at the FIBA Asia Cup in Sydney.
Career Stats: GP 90 | GS 55 | Points 676
Grace Hunter (Senior at California State University Bakersfield)
Porirua’s Grace Hunter played two seasons at South Plains College and a year at Florida International University before joining Cal State Bakersfield for the 2022-23 season. Played 29 games, with 12 starts, for the Roadrunners last season – averaged 7.6ppg and had second most on the team for assists (38) and steals (32).
Scored 10 points on debut for the Tall Ferns in June, 2023 against Serbia in Belgrade and was a member of the team that finished fourth at the FIBA Asia Cup. Won a Tauihi championship with Tokomanawa Queens in 2022 and a runners-up medal in 2023.
Stats: GP 54 | GS 12 | Points 453
Charlisse Leger-Walker (Senior at Washington State University)
Barring injury, Leger-Walker is set to become New Zealand’s all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball. Already with 1,465 career points she only requires another 183 points to surpass the 1,647 points scored by Erin Rooney.
Was named the 2023 Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player after leading WSU to the title – scoring a game high 23 points in the Championship game win over UCLA. Scored a career high 40 points against Washington in December. Was also member of the Tall Ferns team that finished fourth at the 2023 FIBA Asia Cup.
Stats: GP 84 | GS 84 | Points 1,465
Tara Manumaleuga (Senior at Texas Christian University)
Transferred to Texas Christian ahead of the 2021-22 season, after two years at the University of Arizona where she played 25 games for the Wildcats. The Brisbane-educated Manumaleuga averaged 5.8ppg in 30 appearances for TCU in 2022-23. She also played for New Zealand at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Championship.
Stats: GP 81 | GS 23 | Points 283
Helen Matthews (Senior at Wofford College)
The Cantabrian started 30 of 31 games, as the Terriers clinched their first ever Southern Conference Regular Season title.
Averaged 9.7ppg, 5.3rpg and 1.9apg – second most on the team in rebounds and assists. Named to the Southern Conference All-Defensive Team and the Southern Conference All-Tournament Team – scored a career high 25 points in the championship game against Chattanooga.
Stats GP 82 GS 38 Points 599
Emme Shearer (Senior at University of Portland)
Played 32 games with 24 starts in 2022-23 as the Pilots won their third ever West Coast Conference Championship. Shearer averaged 10ppg, shooting at a 39% clip (41/104) from beyond the arc. She was also second on the team in steals (43) and scored a career high 21 points against San Francisco.
The former Harbour and Westlake Girls High representative debuted for the 3×3 Tall Ferns in Canada in July 2023.
Stats: GP 88 | GS 65 | Points 677
Kaylee Smiler (Senior at Brigham Young University)
The Waikato guard, with 105 appearances, has played more Division 1 games than any of the current crop of New Zealand players (male or female). She started 29 of the 31 games she played for the Cougars last season, leading the team in 3-point shooting at 46.9% (45/96).
Stats: GP 105 | GS 29 | Points 403
Yzabelle Tevao (Senior at Chicago State University)
Prior to Chicago State, Tevao played two seasons in Junior College; one of only three players to play all 28 games for CSU in 2022-23, averaging 3ppg and 3rpg. Prior to college, played at Massey High School and for Waitakere West Auckland.
Stats: GP 28 | GS 8 | Points 56
Charlotte Whittaker (Senior at University of Colorado)
After sitting out the 2021-22 season following hip surgery, Whittaker returned in 2022-23 to play 31 games for the Buffaloes. The former Junior Tall Fern, St Andrews College and Canterbury forward is now within striking distance of 100 appearances for Colorado.
Stats: GP 81 | GS 12 | Points 302
Rochelle Fourie (Junior at California State University, Northridge)
With only one season of playing under her belt, Fourie has already graduated with a degree in psychology. Played 25 games for CSUN in 2022-23.
Fourie commenced her career at the University of California Northridge, 24 months later than originally scheduled. In 20/21 as the school declared it was unable to compete due to the number of students that had voluntarily elected to opt out of competition due to Covid. The graduate of Manukura School, Palmerston North was then forced to sit out 2021/22 due to injury.
Stats: GP 25 | Points 40
Arielle Mackey-Williams (Junior at Brigham Young University)
Played all 32 games for the BYU Cougars in 2022-23, starting on 24 occasions. Mackey-Williams was third in scoring (8.8ppg) and second in assists (2.2apg) and also second for 3-point shooting at 38%. Scored a career-high 18 points against Colorado State in November.
Schooled at Tai Wananga ki Ruakura, Hamilton, Mackey-Williams debuted for the 3×3 Tall Ferns in Canada in July 2023.
Stats: GP 52 | GS 24 | Points 325
Leah Mafua (Junior at University of Central Arkansas)
Mafua joins UCA after two seasons of junior college basketball – averaged 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds for Dodge City CC in her sophomore year. Prior to this she was a standout junior player with Wellington and Hutt Valley High School, and also played for New Zealand at the 2018 FIBA U18 Asian Championship in India where she averaged 10ppg, 5rpg and 3apg.
Jenna Rose Mafua (Junior at University of Central Arkansas)
Like older sister Leah, Jenna links up with the UCA Bears after a standout spell at Dodge City Community College. Over a 41 game career at Dodge City, she averaged 10.1ppg. In the 2022-23 season she made 61 three-pointers at a 38% success rate.
Emilee Tahata (Junior at La Salle University)
After missing the 2021-22 campaign due to injury, Tahata played 14 games last season for La Salle. Prior to this, she played for Brisbane Capitals in the 2021 NBL1 North competition ,and also played for New Zealand at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Belarus.
Stats: GP 14 | Points 7
Olivia Williams (Junior at University of California Irvine)
Started all 18 games played in her sophomore year – scoring a career high 16 points at Seattle in November – but missed the second half of the season due to injury. Williams attended Archbishop Mitty High School in San Francisco, and played for New Zealand at the 2019 FIBA U17 Oceania Championships in New Caledonia. Her great-grandfather, Jack Sullivan, was both an All Blacks player and coach.
Stats: GP 48 | GS 37 | Points 273
Dani Bayes (Sophomore at Boise State University)
Bayes enjoyed a fine freshman season with the Broncos, making 31 starts from 32 appearances while averaging 8ppg; named to the Mountain West Conference 2022-23 All-Freshman Team for her efforts. Born in Auckland, Bayes moved to Brisbane as a youngster and was educated at Sheldon College.
Stats: GP 32 | GS 31 | Points 256
Ella Brow (Sophomore at Southern Methodist University)
Named to the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team after averaging 4.6ppg and 2.7apg in the 2022-23 season. Scored a season-high 14 points against East Carolina in January. Brow was educated in Queensland where she attended Palm Beach Currumbin High School.
Stats: GP 25 | GS 10 | Points 115
Lilly Parke (Sophomore at Fairleigh Dickinson University)
The Auckland rep forward has moved to Fairleigh Dickinson after a season at Auburn University at Montgomery (NCAA Division II) where she started 11 of 26 games – averaging 5.9ppg and 3.6rpg in her freshman year.
Parke will play under Coach Stephanie Gaitley at FDU; Gaitley previously recruiting the likes of future Tall Ferns Mary Goulding, Kendell Heremaia, Zara Jillings and Erin Rooney. Parke played for New Zealand at the 2022 FIBA U18 Asian Championship in India, where she led the team in scoring (8.4ppg) and was second in rebounding (8.2rpg).
Melika Samia (Sophomore at University of Portland)
Played 23 games in her freshman year, as the Pilots won their third West Coast Conference Championship. Unfortunately Samia will have to sit out the 2023-24 season due to injury.
Stats: GP 23 | Points 31
Breeje Schuler (Sophomore at Eastern Washington University)
A former Te Aroha College and St Peter’s School in Cambridge standout, Schuler played just eight games for the Eagles in her freshman year. Schuler was a multiple national championship winner on Waikato representative teams, including being named MVP at the 2021 U19 National Championships.
Stats: GP 8 | Points 3
Florence Dallow (Freshman at University of Portland)
Dallow joined the Portland programme last year but red-shirted the 2022-23 season. She played for New Zealand at the 2022 FIBA U18 Asian Championship in India – averaging 8ppg and 4rpg. The former Epsom Girls Grammar School wing played her representative basketball for North Harbour.
Maia Jones (St Mary’s College, California)
Jones led the New Zealand scoring at the 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup, averaging 9.4ppg.
The daughter of Phill and Kat Jones, she debuted for Mainland Pouākai in the 2022 Tauihi season – and in the same year captained Waimea College at the Secondary Schools National Championships, where she was named to the Tournament Team after finishing as the tournament’s leading scorer.
Mackenzie Chatfield (Western Kentucky University)
Captained Westlake Girls High School to the 2022 Secondary Schools National Championship title, being named Tournament MVP for her efforts. Chatfield was also named to the Tournament Team at the 2022 New Zealand U19 National Championship.
Played for New Zealand at the 2022 FIBA U18 Asian Championship in India, where she led the team in rebounding (8.4rpg) and was second in assists (5.4apg).
Izzy Pugh (Wisconsin Milwauke University)
Top-scored in the Grand Final with 27 points, as Westlake Girls High defeated St Andrew’s College to win the 2022 Secondary Schools National Championship – named to the Tournament Team as a result. Played representative basketball for Hibiscus Coast and Harbour Basketball.
Lilly Taulelei (Freshman at University of Massachusetts)
Played for New Zealand at the 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup in Hungary, and later that year made her Tall Ferns debut in a friendly series vs Melbourne-based WNBA teams. Taulelei also played for the Tall Ferns on their 2023 European tour.
Between these international commitments, she played for the championship-winning Tokomanawa Queens in the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa in 2022.
Vitolia Tuilave (Freshman at Wofford College)
Out of Tauranga City and Mount Maunganui College, Tuilave joins Helen Matthews at the successful Wofford College programme. She previously played for New Zealand at the 2022 FIBA U18 Asian Championship in India, and was named to the Tournament Team at the New Zealand U19 National Championships in 2022.