Ten HLWBB conference games to watch in 2022-23


The Horizon League dropped the full women’s conference schedule on Wednesday afternoon with (as usual) each HL member playing each of the others once at home and once on the road, for 20 league games in all. Here’s a too-early opinion of the ten most interesting of those 110 total contests between December 1st and February 25th of the 2022-23 season, presented in chronological order.

Thursday, December 1

Green Bay at Milwaukee – In a conference with a handful of great rivalries, the Phoenix and Panthers might be my favorite, particularly given the schools’ relationship as two fingers on the same hand. While Milwaukee’s regular season title defense last year could fairly be called disappointing, the Panthers did manage one of the HL’s more stunning late-season results. After it looked like UWM might be run off their own court at points during the second quarter on February 21st, they came from behind to down a white hot Green Bay team which, as it turned out, cost the Phoenix the regular season championship. While UWGB will be held in higher regard to start the year, don’t be surprised if Megan Walstad and company join them near the top of the standings.

Friday, December 2

Robert Morris at Wright State – Detroit Mercy and IUPUI went through coaching changes this past offseason, and Oakland endured a decent amount of turmoil as well, but nobody comes close to Wright State in terms of sheer chaos, a trend that’s now spanned consecutive offseasons. In 2021 of course, Katrina Merriweather, Angel Baker and company departed from the league champs. Kari Hoffman stepped in from Division II’s Cedarville last year and oversaw a season of struggle on and off the court, followed by a mass exodus of Merriweather holdovers. Hoffman is a proven winner, and her recruiting class looks very solid with a nice mix of freshmen and portal grabs, but their conference opener against a solid RMU team will be the first glimpse of whether WSU is ready to make a move back towards the top of the league.

Sunday, December 4

Oakland at Purdue Fort Wayne – I’ve been bullish on the Maria Marchesano iteration of the Mastodons since early last year, and with most of their key contributors back (and healthy!), PFW has a serious chance to make a long trip up the standings. And what better way to signal a move towards the top of the Horizon League’s huge middle class than through a chance to correct one the Dons’ low points last year: a come-from-ahead defeat to an Oakland team that had just six healthy players? PFW’s two losses to the Grizzlies in 2021-22 came by a combined seven points, making OU a natural measuring stick for the Ott sisters, Shayla Sellers, Aubrey Stupp, and the rest of the Dons.

Thursday, December 29

Cleveland State at Youngstown State – For all of the Vikings’ successes last season, a major blemish that ultimately went a long way towards sealing CSU’s fate in the regular season title chase was a sweep at the hands of player of the year candidate Lilly Ritz and the Penguins. While the game in Cleveland went to overtime, the Beeghly Center half of the series on New Year’s Day was arguably more memorable as a review-bogged slobberknocker in front of a robust and howling crowd. While a true repeat of that event seems unlikely, the potential for it will certainly draw in a few eyeballs during a slow holiday week.

Saturday, January 14

IUPUI at Robert Morris – The Colonials were the ultimate bogey team last season, using one of the league’s better defenses to stay in most games and pulling off a couple big upsets on the way. The major exception was IUPUI, which beat RMU’s brakes off by 19, 33, and 31 points in three meetings. Despite numerous body blows over the offseason, the Jags still have a very serviceable group for Kate Bruce’s first season, including key players like Destiny Perkins, Rachel Kent, and Natalie Andersen from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad, and they held on to promising rookies Brianna Wooldridge and Teresa Maggio through a coaching change. This has a chance to be a statement game for either team.

Wednesday, January 18

Oakland at Detroit Mercy – With UIC out of the league and Kate Achter’s first roster not vastly improved from what LaTanya Collins had last season, wins are probably going to be tough to come by for the Titans again this year even if their long-term prospects are strong, given how UDM snagged Achter after her stunning release after a historically-successful season at Loyola Chicago. However, one game that may be within reach involves their suburban archrivals, which also saw a healthy amount of upheaval during the offseason with the departures of two-time acting head coach Ke’Sha Blanton and several key players.

Friday, January 20

Youngstown State at Green Bay – In what was probably the Horizon League’s best conference game last season, the Penguins and Phoenix went blow for blow through four quarters and two overtimes at the Kress Center before some clutch defense, along with free throw shooting by Sydney Levy and Hailey Oskey, delivered Green Bay a 70-69 win. Both teams, already very good but bolstered by monster offseason hauls, are likely to be consensus picks for the top two spots in the league, making both of their games (which will be played in front of, for my money, the two best home-court advantages in the league) must-watches.

Sunday, January 22

Cleveland State at Northern Kentucky – Northern Kentucky was one of the conference’s true enigmas last season. The Norse won ten games in a row at one point, a streak that included a victory at IUPUI, while Camryn Whitaker’s team also won at Green Bay early in the season. They have Lindsey Duvall, who belongs on any player of the year shortlist, back and leading an already-talented roster that added Ohio small school star Allison Basye. And yet… NKU faded down the stretch, losing all of their games against the other top teams starting at the end of January, including a Horizon League quarterfinal game at Cleveland State. Are the Norse a contender or not? There’s plenty of evidence both ways, but shaking last season’s 0-3 bagel against the Vikings would help turn the narrative in their favor.

Saturday, February 11

Cleveland State at IUPUI – CSU will head to Indianapolis in February for what’s technically a rematch of last season’s Horizon League championship game, though it won’t really feel like it given everything that the Jaguars have lost since last season (Macee Williams, Rachel McLimore, Austin Parkinson, the name of the school). Still, it’s been no secret that Cleveland State has struggled mightily with IUPUI over the last few seasons, particularly in The Jungle, and this game represents a good chance for the Vikings to slay one of their dragons, though as mentioned, the Jags will likely be stronger than many expect.

Sunday, February 19

Green Bay at Youngstown State – I wasn’t playing, you need to watch both YSU-UWGB games. This one, on the season’s penultimate weekend, seems like it might end up being kind of important.

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