Welcome to the Starting Five, your rundown of the key stories in #HLWBB from the past…however long it took to come up with five stories since the previous Starting Five.
1. Barrier to entry
If you weren’t aware, Youngstown State is absolutely caked with veterans. In fact, they have six fifth-year players (Jen Wendler, Emily Saunders, Paige Shy, Shay-Lee Kirby, Dena Jarrells and Mady Aulbach) on a roster of 14 players, an absolutely bonkers ratio. Oh and the Guins also have a pair of more conventional fourth-year seniors, Lindsey Linard and Malia Magestro.
The somewhat obvious remedy for that sort of imbalance? Crootin’, and lots of it. YSU now has six players committed for 2024, thanks to their latest, Kentucky backcourt player Hayden Barrier.
Barrier is a dynamic offensive player, billed as someone who can score the basketball in just about every way available, whether that’s from three-point range, through contact on a drive to the rim, or anything between those outcomes. She averaged 17.3 points per game last season at Montgomery County High School (located about 45 minutes east of Lexington), though she notably played AAU ball for the West Virginia Thunder, which has become quite the pipeline to Youngstown in recent years given that their alumni include Shy, Saunders, Jarrells and Kirby.
Her impressive list of offers also included Northern Kentucky, UNC Wilmington, Bellarmine, Miami (OH), Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky.
2. Video killed the graphic design star
As usual, we’ve had a ton of schedule drops recently (entirely non-conference ones at this point since, as I hope you’re aware, the Horizon League slate came out on August 22nd). Among the more recent teams putting their releases out into the world:
- IUPUI (August 25th) – While a trip to Ohio State on November 11th is an obvious highlight, the Jags will battle their old Horizon League travel partner, UIC, eight days later. Undoubtedly, more than one eyeball in the HL will be on that contest, if only because it’s really hard to watch something using one eye when you have two that work.
- Wright State (August 30th) – The Raiders, who infamously played Tennessee and Ohio State while rebuilding last year, haven’t really backed down at all as they’ll visit Michigan State and West Virginia while hosting Bowling Green this season.
- Youngstown State (August 30th) – Like their cross-state rivals, the Guins will also visit WVU, an appropriate stop on the farewell tours of YSU’s four fifth-year players from the Mountain State.
- Northern Kentucky (ongoing) – The Norse have stuck to their slow-drip announcement technique, with the recent reveals including a home game against Marshall on November 18th, and a trip to Tennessee to battle both Horizon League men’s tennis school Tennessee Tech on December 18th and Middle Tennessee State on December 20th. NKU has now released six games in this manner, so presumably we’re near the end of parade for this season.
At this point, Oakland, Robert Morris and Milwaukee are the only three schools still sitting on their full schedules.
I do want to bounce back to IUPUI for a minute though, because they joined what’s become a major trend in sports social media: announcing schedules through creative and often hilarious video content. It’s become ubiquitous in the NBA and NFL (the Los Angeles Chargers are widely considered the best at it), but mid-major universities have been slow to the trend. Understandably so, given that the typical athletic communications professional in that world is responsible for half of the teams in their department and doesn’t have an entire squadron of graphic designers, animators and video editors at their disposal like a major professional franchise or power conference member.
Nevertheless, more and more mids have found creative ways to work with what they have, and when what you have is Macee Williams, you could be doing a lot worse.
While IUPUI took the celebrity appearance approach, Green Bay used another winning tactic, the person in the street. The Phoenix went to Packers training camp, because where else would one go in Green Bay, and asked fans to identify their opponents based only on their logos, with some cringe results.
3. Three-headed monster
The most stable coaching staff in the Horizon League (Green Bay, if that was somehow an open question to someone) got a little stabler this week, when two of Kevin Borseth’s long-time right hands (I guess “right hand and left hand” would make more sense, I have no idea how it’s supposed to work when there’s more than one) received promotions. Megan Vogel is now the Phoenix’s associate head coach, while Sarah Bronk received a title bump to assistant head coach.
“Megan is a student of basketball,” Borseth said in the school’s release. “She is forever studying the game, keeping up to date on trends and new ideas that surround today’s game. She has made a commitment to stay at Green Bay having had opportunities to leave. I’ve always said we need people who want to be here.
“Green Bay is a special place and Megan has embraced this. She has demonstrated a desire to lead and has been involved in all facets of our program. There is going to be a day when Megan is running her own program and I’m confident she will have a great deal of success. We are fortunate to have her at Green Bay.”
“Sarah contributes so much to our program on and off the floor,” Borseth said of Bronk, who is entering her 17th season in Green Bay. “The players can probably attest best to Sarah’s contributions since she always has the pulse of what’s going on with their career advancement in school as well as their personal well-being during their stay and after graduation. She is an unbelievable asset to our program, and we are extremely fortunate to have Sarah as part of our program. She is committed to Phoenix Basketball.”
So that’s one head coach, one associate head coach, and one assistant head coach, if you’re keeping track.
Earlier in the offseason, Green Bay director of basketball operations Patrick Bowlin was promoted to assistant coach, while Jada Patterson was hired as director of operations and content creation (so she undoubtedly had something do with the schedule video above). On the other side of things, assistant coach Carly Mohns was recently removed from the Phoenix website. Mohns, a former Iowa Hawkeyes player who wrapped up her career as a grad transfer with Green Bay in 2018-19, had been on the staff for the last two seasons.
4. Drive to survive
I try to make sure that I’m scanning the gigantic world outside of team releases and social posts for items that are relevant to Horizon League women’s basketball. In fact, it was most of the reason for these posts when I started doing them. The problem is that it’s often a losing endeavor, because even when something does find that sweet spot, it’s often about men’s basketball, since that’s what pulls the resources at most major outlets.
This is one of those cases, sorry, but I thought ESPN published an absolutely fascinating look at how mid-majors recruit the summer grassroots traveling circus and how it contrasts with their more moneyed peers last week, and there’s little in the piece that wouldn’t also apply to women’s basketball. Cleveland State men’s coach Daniyal Robinson is among the those quoted, and he admitted to finessing his way into showcases as a parent, cheaper than doing so as a coach, a move made possible thanks to his son being a college basketball prospect. For someone like me, who writes about HLWBB around a day job and isn’t rich, there’s something inherently relatable about how mid-major coaches operate. Drive instead of fly? Mainline coffee to survive your 9 A.M. after traveling all night? Try to sell people on the idea that, despite your structural disadvantages, you’re still better than the major names in your industry? Yeah, I’ve done all of that. Enjoy.
5. Straight As
Between incoming freshmen like Ellie Magestro-Kennedy and Rylee Sagester, as well as other players elsewhere in the pipeline, Wright State has done an outstanding job recruiting in the Kari Hoffman era. Their latest commitment arrived on Wednesday, from 2024 point guard Anna Azzara.
Azzarra is a rising senior at Spring-Ford High School in southeastern Pennsylvania where she was third team all-state at the 6A level last year, and based on her well-rounded highlight reel, should be a great fit for the Raiders. She can shoot the three, of course (I’m pretty much at the point where I don’t believe that WSU even glances at people who can’t). But more importantly for a point guard, she’s a high-motor perimeter player who defends well and can protect the ball while navigating up the court against pressure – something that certainly can’t be overlooked given the teams currently on top of the league, a group that the Raiders are trying to (re-)join.
Her pledge came right on the heels of one from six-foot Illinois wing Elle Bruschuk, who should add some desperately-needed length and size next season.