By: Mason Nesbitt, Sports Information Director
Coach Dan Waldeck’s excitement over learning that members of his starting front court had been named NAIA All-Americans was matched by another interest.
“I’m glad I get to coach them for years to come,” said Waldeck after Master’s freshman Stephanie Soares and sophomore Anika Neuman were among the year-end award winners released by the NAIA on Thursday morning.
Soares, who led the nation in rebounding, blocked shots and double-doubles, was a first team selection. It was the first time since 2013-14 that Master’s had a first teamer, and the fourth time in program history.
Sophomore Anika Neuman was an honorable mention for NAIA All-American.
Neuman was an honorable mention after shooting 37% from beyond the arc and averaging 18 points in three national tournament games, when the Mustangs made it to the quarterfinals for the second time in program history.
“They were able to handle the focus of opposing defenses each and every night,” said Waldeck. “They’re game-changers and culture-shapers.”
Soares had arguably the biggest impact on the program of any freshman ever. Highly touted before stepping on campus, the 6-foot-6 center from Sao Paulo, Brazil, more than delivered.
She blocked a program-record 10 shots in her first collegiate game. She scored 29 points in her fourth game. For the season, Soares averaged 16.2 points, 13.4 rebounds and 4.9 blocks — with 29 double-doubles in 35 games.
Her 173 blocks were 20 shy of matching TMU’s career record, set by Bianca Cubello from 2013 to 2017.
There was growth, too.
Waldeck says Soares improved her toughness, playmaking ability away from the rim and her perimeter shot making. “And a mentality that desired the pressure of the moment,” he said of the GSAC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Soares was the second freshman to be named the conference’s Player of the Year in the last 30 seasons.
“Most freshmen don’t have the poise and confidence she plays with,” said Neuman. “She was consistent in every game, and I’m so proud of her.”
Soares’ presence allowed Neuman to slide from the five to her more natural four position, a spot that utilized her versatile skill set.
Neuman averaged 10.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. She made a team-best 83% of her free throws and knocked down 49 three-pointers — 36 more than last season.
“I knew she’d thrive (at the four),” Waldeck said, “but I think her improvement defensively and in her perimeter shot making blew me away. I think she’s only scratching the surface of her potential. The national tourney was just a taste of what I think we’ll see over the next two years.”
Neuman scored 19 points in each of TMU’s first two national tournament games this month before tossing in 16 points against eventual national champion Montana Western in the quarters. She led Master’s in scoring in each game.
“(Being an All-American) is something I definitely desired and something coach told me I was capable of,” Neuman said. “But that wasn’t ultimately my end goal. I just worked hard everyday and did what I could to improve and I guess it paid off.”