This month, Notre Dame became the first program ever to have all five starters taken in the top 20 of the WNBA Draft. For the Fighting Irish and teams like them, it’s less about whether one of their draft-eligible players will make their WNBA debut soon after graduation and more about how many.
But for players at other schools, blazing their own trail and creating their own history is essential to making a name for themselves at the professional level. Any player taken on draft night deserves the opportunity to play in the WNBA, but coming from a mid-major — as all of the below players do — means not just shining in your own right, but making sure your team does, too.
Here are the four players who became their program’s first, second or third-ever draft pick this year.
Cierra Dillard, Buffalo
Drafted: 2nd round, 8th pick (20th overall)
Team: Minnesota Lynx
After a career that included a historic Sweet Sixteen trip, multiple watch list recognitions and being the NCAA’s second-best scorer her senior season, it’s no surprise that Dillard also made history as Buffalo’s first-ever WNBA draft pick. She immediately made a name for herself upon transferring from UMass, starting in all 69 games she played in and averaging over 20 points and 34 minutes per game for her two-year career.
In addition to the history she made at Buffalo, Dillard is also just the third player ever from the Mid-American Conference to be selected in the WNBA Draft.
Morgan Bertsch, UC Davis
Drafted: 3rd round, 5th pick (29th overall)
Team: Dallas Wings
Bertsch was the first girls basketball player from her high school to receive a Division I scholarship. Now, she’s the first Aggie to be drafted into the WNBA.
Passing both the women’s and men’s career scoring marks at UC Davis this year, Bertsch is not just a prolific inside scorer, but she also added the 3-point shot to her repertoire this season. This aided the Aggies in winning their first Big West tournament title since 2011, marking their second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Bertsch has one 40-point game on her résumé this season, one of eight games where she took more than 20 shots.
Oh, and no big deal, but Bertsch also holds the UC Davis high jump record.
Macy Miller, South Dakota State
Drafted: 3rd round, 12th pick (36th overall)
Team: Seattle Storm
Preceded by: Megan Vogel, 2007
It’s hard to believe that Miller’s draft stock needed a bump to propel her to her selection, but she seemed happy to provide one. Already the Summit League’s career leading scorer, Miller also led the Jackrabbits to their first-ever Sweet Sixteen this season behind career-bests in nearly every statistical category. Her final two seasons at South Dakota State saw her earn two Summit League Player of the Year awards.
If all that wasn’t enough to prove herself, Miller also participated in pre-draft camps in Tampa that raised her stock once and for all. After some undue confusion on draft night, it was a deserved honor for Miller to round out this year’s draft.
Natisha Hiedeman, Marquette
Drafted: 2nd round, 6th pick (18th overall)
Team: Connecticut Sun (trade from Lynx)
Preceded by: Angel Robinson, 2011; Abbie Willenborg, 2000
Hiedeman may not have been the first pick ever out of Marquette, but she’s the highest pick both in Marquette program history and the new Big East. The multiple All-America selection was named the unanimous Big East Player of the Year, tops the Marquette all-time 3-pointer list and finished her career just 87 points shy of 2,000 (but still third all-time in program history).
But even being the highest draft pick on this list doesn’t guarantee a roster spot, especially in such a competitive camp. Like many players drafted to the WNBA every year, Hiedeman is open to the possibility of playing overseas if she doesn’t make the Sun.
Of her main takeaways from Marquette, she said, “You are not always going to succeed. You are not always going to be the best on the court. You are not always going to win every single game. Just handling failure is something I learned and use it as motivation to do better.”