Returning core: Tech seniors use extra season of eligibility

Georgia Tech guard Kierra Fletcher (41) drives around West Virginia guard Kirsten Deans during the first half of their second-round women's NCAA Tournament game Tuesday, March 23, 2021, at the Convocation Center in San Antonio. (Stephen Spillman/AP)
Georgia Tech guard Kierra Fletcher (41) drives around West Virginia guard Kirsten Deans during the first half of their second-round women's NCAA Tournament game Tuesday, March 23, 2021, at the Convocation Center in San Antonio. (Stephen Spillman/AP)

Credit: Stephen Spillman

Credit: Stephen Spillman

At the mention of her two seniors returning, Nell Fortner chuckled. She might’ve had a bit of an idea.

“We’ll have those conversations over the next few days,” the Georgia Tech women’s basketball coach said Sunday after the NCAA Tournament.

Forty-eight hours after seeing its season end in the Sweet 16 against South Carolina, Georgia Tech got favorable news. Seniors Lorela Cubaj and Kierra Fletcher will use their free season of eligibility and play a fifth season for Fortner.

Cubaj, Fletcher and junior Lotta-Maj Lahtinen are Tech’s leadership group and were vital to the team’s success. Cubaj had some WNBA projections, including a first-round selection in a mock draft by ESPN five days ago. Fortner said Cubaj “anchors” Tech on both ends by averaging 12.5 points and 11.5 points per game this season.

Those entering the WNBA draft had to opt in by April 1.

Fletcher had consistently been a do-it-all guard for the Jackets. She seemed to have immediate interest in returning, and those conversations on a return progressed quickly. Fletcher averaged 13 points per game on the season, and scored 16 in the 11-point defeat to South Carolina.

“Run it back,” Fletcher tweeted.

“Senior year part 2,” Cubaj followed.

As of Monday morning, Tech didn’t have any players in the transfer portal, per a person familar with the situation. The Jackets have a full 15-player roster with the return of Cubaj and Fletcher and the addition of two 2021 signees — guard Elizabete Bulane and forward Carmyn Harrison.

Tech returns its two seniors and has eight underclassmen progressing with another year of experience. Fortner had reason to laugh.

She knew a good fortune might head her way. Her players are on board to play for the second-year coach for another season, too.

“I think the sky’s the limit,” Fletcher said of the trajectory under Fortner. “Adding more pieces to this team, I think we’re going to be a team that you have to look out for for the next years on end.”

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