FAIRBORN — The Wright State University women’s basketball team has produced the Horizon League’s Player of the Year four times in the last five seasons. Every time one of those superstars has completed their eligibility, the next team has taken the floor and just kept on winning.
Chelsea Welch, last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year, is gone. So are her 20.6 points per game. And yet the expectations for the 2018-19 Raiders remain the same.
“Every year, your team has to have a leading scorer,” third-year head coach Katrina Merriweather said. “That doesn’t mean someone else couldn’t have done it. There is talent here. The question is always, ‘How great can we be together?’”
Probably still pretty great.
The Raiders were 23-11 last season, advanced to the Horizon League tournament championship game, and the team qualified for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
Two 1,000-point career scorers (Welch and Lexi Smith) are gone from that team. But, three players on the current roster — Emily Vogelpohl, Mackenzie Taylor, and Symone Simmons — could all join Welch and Smith on Wright State’s 1,000-point club this winter.
Vogelpohl has played nearly every position during her four years as a starter, but she will begin this season at point guard. She was named to the Horizon League All-Defensive Team last season. Her 2.5 steals per game ranked second in the league, and Vogelpohl also averaged 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds.
“Emily makes other teams nervous,” Merriweather said. “She’s an aggressive player. All she cares about is winning.”
Taylor’s game took a giant leap forward during her junior season. After shooting a combined 32 percent from 3-point range as a freshman and sophomore, Taylor led the league last year by hitting 41 percent from long distance and averaging 11.2 points.
“Mac has gotten better and better every year, especially defensively,” Merriweather said. “She is strong and gritty and takes pride in not getting scored on. Offensively, she has worked to develop a triple threat skill set.”
The 5-foot-10 Simmons averaged 7.8 points and eight rebounds, third in the league. She could break the school record for rebounds in a career (897) and could finish her career with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“Symone went up against Lexi Smith in practice for three years, so she knows what kind of player she needs to be,” Merriweather said. “We expect her to be better than last year, and I believe she expects that as well.”
Tyler Frierson, Nia Sumpter, Dasia Evans and Jalise Beck all played in at least 30 games for the Raiders last season.
The 6-foot-4 Frierson averaged three rebounds per game. Frierson, the 6-2 Evans and the 5-11 Sumpter give the Raiders more depth and experience in the post positions than in most recent seasons. Merriweather said Evans and Beck, a junior guard, have made “great strides” since last season.
There are seven new players on the roster, some with impressive credentials.
A pair of transfers, Michal Miller and Imani Partlow, could make a significant impact during their first seasons on the team. Miller began her career at the University of Arizona, then averaged 14.2 points while leading Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College to a runner-up finish in the junior college national tournament. Partlow is a 6-1 graduate transfer from Xavier who averaged 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Musketeers last season.
Freshman point guard Angel Baker was an Associated Press first-team all-state selection at Indianapolis Pike, where she averaged 22.7 points as a senior.
“Angel is a very, very special player, extremely skilled and athletic,” Merriweather said. “She’s a point guard who can score and a better defender than most freshman guards, because of her quickness.”
Tenishia Dixon, a physical 6-1 post player, redshirted last season after transferring from junior college. Freshman Anisja Harris can contribute perimeter shooting from multiple positions and has been the biggest surprise among the newcomers, according to Merriweather. Freshman Shamarre “Tank” Hale, a strong 6-2 forward, is likely to redshirt.
Sophomore Alexis Stover will also sit out this season after transferring from Ohio University.
This year’s Wright State team looks like another squad capable of 20-plus wins and contending with perennial league favorite University of Wisconsin-Green Bay atop the standings, but there are some priorities for making that happen.
“First, we have to rebound — have to,” Merriweather said. “Second, we have to get to the free throw line. Chelsea Welch shot eight free throws per game; that is part of how she could wreak havoc on a defense. Third, we have to cause some chaos defensively.”
The Raiders have averaged 25 wins over the last four seasons and have won 20 or more games seven times in the last eight seasons.
“There is an expectation, from every direction, to win here,” Merriweather said. “We talk about reaching our potential. Our players know how talented this team is. So, if we do things the right way, there is a really good chance we’ll like the result.”
The Wright State women’s basketball team will open at home Thursday, Nov. 15 against Belmont. For ticket information, go to wsuraiders.com or call 937-775-4934.
Story courtesy of Wright State University Athletics, for more information visit www.wsuraiders.com.