Green Bay and Cleveland State will pick up where they left off last season and once again battle for the Horizon League title in 2023-24, with the Phoenix emerging victorious, according to our preseason poll of writers and podcast staff.
The Vikings and Phoenix were first and second (in either order) on every ballot but one, positioning the two schools firmly ahead of the other contenders. However, Youngstown State emerged as a clear third-place selection thanks largely to a massive group of fifth-year seniors that hopes to bring the Penguins back to the top of the conference on their farewell tour. Purdue Fort Wayne, fresh off of a surprising run to the HL semifinals, was picked fourth.
After that, things became quite messy, with Northern Kentucky, Milwaukee, IUPUI and Wright State all finishing within three points of each other in the voting, including a tie between the Panthers and Norse. All four teams have turned over their rosters substantially, though all four also offer plenty of upside and the potential to become the next underdog to make it to Indianapolis at the end of the year.
Oakland, Detroit Mercy and Robert Morris were our picks for the final three places in the standings, though each of those programs has reasons to hope for more.
|4.||Purdue Fort Wayne|
|5 (tie).||Northern Kentucky|
Death, taxes, and Green Bay at the top of the Horizon League standings. The Phoenix return the bulk of their major contributors from last year’s regular season champions, including the likes of Bailey Butler, Cassie Schiltz, Jasmine Kondrakiewicz and Maddie Schreiber (who missed the back half of the schedule due to injury), while also bringing a stellar group of freshmen along with former IUPUI guard Natalie Andersen. Kevin Borseth and company will look to finally extend their success to the league tournament, where Cleveland State has ousted them three times in a row.
Despite returning just one starter – granted, it’s reigning Horizon League Player of the Year Destiny Leo – Cleveland State once again flexed its transfer portal muscles and collected another incoming class good enough to keep the Vikings close to the top of the league, highlighted by Colbi Maples, Grace Ellis and Brooklynn Fort-Davis. Jordana Reisma will look to take the next step towards becoming one of the conference’s top post players.
Though Youngstown State was recently dealt a major blow when head coach John Barnes took a personal leave of absence, the Penguins are in good hands under assistant coach John Nicolais and the leadership of six fifth-year seniors. That group, including Paige Shy, Mady Aulbach and Emily Saunders, along with fourth-year seniors Malia Magestro and Lindsey Linard, will look to help the 2021-22 HL regular season champions bounce back from a disappointing campaign last year.
For the first time under Maria Marchesano, Purdue Fort Wayne will have to deal with the weight of expectations, thanks to how the Mastodons closed last season – after February started, PFW knocked off teams like Northern Kentucky and Youngstown State, then made a run to the HL semifinals where they gave Green Bay all they could handle. Shayla Sellers returns for one more go, while breakout star Amellia Bromenschenkel presents matchup problems all over the floor.
This year decidedly represents a changing of the guard for perennial contender Northern Kentucky, with Lindsey Duvall, Ivy Turner and Emmy Souder now departed. Even head coach Camryn Whitaker has a new last name, Volz, after getting married during the offseason. The Norse will count on Kailee Davis’ continued development, the defensive play of standout Khamari Mitchell-Steen, and the production of Western Kentucky transfer Mya Meredith to continue pushing towards the program’s first title.
Similarly, Milwaukee will look a lot different this season after the graduations of twin towers Megan Walstad and Emma Wittmershaus, as guards Angie Cera and Kendall Nead now represent the Panthers’ veteran leadership. However, Kyle Rechlicz has a very talented and very young core to help reload, including her daughter Payton, an incoming freshman. Point guard Kamy Peppler will look to continue her growth as a sophomore, while Jorey Buwalda and Sophia Rampulla were two of the top high schoolers in the state last year.
It’s hard to know what to expect from IUPUI now that the last major pieces of the Austin Parkinson era have cleared out, thanks in part to the grad transfers of Rachel Kent (following Parkinson to Butler) and Andersen (to Green Bay). In all, the Jags have a staggering ten new players, highlighted by former Akron Zip Faith Stinson, Jaela Johnson, who averaged 12 points per game at Bellarmine two years ago, and freshman Kace Urlacher, who played at Illinois power Fremd High School. Bruising forward Jazmyn Turner, who averaged just shy of 15 points per game last season, is back and will likely receive plenty of attention.
Without a doubt, Wright State became one of the biggest stories in the conference late last season, as the previously-downtrodden Raiders rode a binge of three-pointers and vibes to several upset wins down the stretch, leading to the notion that the program might be headed back up in Kari Hoffman’s third season. WSU still has a fatal flaw, their lack of size, though sharpshooters Cara VanKempen and Kacee Baumhower return, while sophomores Makiya Miller and Lauren Scott will likely receive expanded roles. Star freshman Rylee Sagester decommitted from Marshall and was being chased by half of the conference.
With Horizon League Freshman of the Year Brooke Quarles-Daniels leading the way, Oakland will attempt to recover from a disappointing 2022-23 and head towards the form that had the Golden Grizzlies in the conference semifinals two years ago. Underrated supporting players Alexis Johnson, Linda van Schaik and Kennedie Montue are also back, while a transfer-heavy incoming class boasts players like former Michigan Stater Maddy Skorupski and Kianni Westbrook, who averaged 5.7 points per game at Tennessee State last season.
Detroit Mercy is no longer the Horizon League’s speed bump, as Kate Achter has quickly transformed the program’s culture, and while last year’s five wins may not sound like much, it was nevertheless the Titans’ best total since 2016-17. The next step for the Titans will prove a bit tougher, but with young stars Myonna Hooper and Amaya Burch developing further, they’re possible. Irene Murua and Imani McNeal add stability to a roster including eight new players, one of whom, Annika Corcoran, played at UDM from 2019-21 before transferring to Akron and then returning to close her career.
Although Robert Morris will continue to offer well-coached and defensively-tough opposition, the Colonials will probably also continue to struggle mightily for offense, particularly after the departures of Phoenix Gedeon and Sol Castro (though the latter was injured last season). Danielle Vuletich and a healthy Paris Kirk should give RMU one of the better frontcourts in the league, and they’ll hope to find some production from within a massive freshman class, or possibly from veteran guard Alejandra Mastral.