Hope and promise building for the Raiders
It’s not false to say that Wright State fans are a tad bit spoiled, probably more so than anyone else in the Horizon League. On the men’s side of the basketball, the team has posted winning season after winning season since the 2014-2015 campaign. You’d have to go back even further for the women to find a losing season, all the way back to 2012-2013 as a blip in Mike Bradbury’s otherwise dominant tenure. The word “rebuilding” might as well not exist.
That’s just what the Wright State women’s basketball program was forced to do follow the departure of Katrina Merriweather. Coach Hoffman took the reins from there and started on the wrong foot by being officially placed into her role well after recruiting time for transfers. Following a record low season in the Horizon after the holdovers from Merriweather’s time failed to mesh and form a unit with Hoffman’s recruits, a second sweep of the roster allowed Hoffman to put more familiar faces into the lineup, recruiting two seniors from her time at Cedarville and a couple other upperclassmen in Bryce Nixon and Cara VanKempen. The promise was there in that squad as pieces seemed to fall into place later into the season, pulling in 6 wins in 11 games including a Horizon Championship victory on Oakland soil.
“When we believed that we should win, we won,” Hoffman remarked during Horizon League Media Day.
Looking to 2023-2024, only Cara VanKempen and Kacee Baumhower remain as regular starters on the squad but that doesn’t mean the rebuild continues. There is a present core for Coach Hoffman to work from in the six members that have come back for another round. In the third year of Hoffman’s tenure, now begins the development of the vision for the future of the Raiders.
“Having returners has been huge in that aspect, not having to start over from ground zero,” Hoffman replied when asked about team chemistry and the how the six returners are meshing with the seven transfers. “As far as our expectations, where we thought we would be at this time of year with this crew, I think we’re right on schedule if not ahead.”
With the new roster additions comes some help from underneath in the addition of two graduate forwards, something the Raiders were desperately lacking last season. Jada Tate and Julia Hoefling present that size and experience that Hoffman is looking for, as well as senior guard transfer Layne Ferrell to help the outside. Hoffman’s recruits are no strangers to the three point line, and have the ability to drive when necessary.
“We’re still playing off the style we know and that we trust, our expectation stays the same of ‘If you’re open, shoot it,'” Hoffman said. “We’ve got a lot of shooters on our team, and a much better inside presence as well.”
Projected Starting Lineup
F Cara VanKempen – Here for one final go, VanKempen will provide the space underneath once again for Hoffman’s squads, though she won’t be so alone this time around. VanKempen should be able to see some bench help when necessary to deal with paint-heavy squads, and is a good presence to have underneath. The key to maximize VanKempen’s effectiveness will be an even bigger improvement of her rebounding, especially when front court help isn’t available and four guards are out on the floor to shoot from the arc.
G Kacee Baumhower – Baumhower was one of my selections for Third Team and I think she was snubbed. Baumhower consistently put up double digit scoring last season during the conference stretch through a combination of interior attack and three pointers, and was the key to the offense in the victory against Oakland in the championship. In addition, her movement across the court often led to rebounds, ones that the team was so desperately looking for at the time. She’ll be the one to watch for – if Baumhower explodes onto the scene with points aplenty, it’ll be because her time to shine was overdue.
G Alexis Hutchison – Transferring in from D2 Malone University, and followed shortly afterwards by partner and fellow MBB Raider Bo Myers, Hutchison represents more graduate student help from the D2 scene that Hoffman can draw upon. Hutchison averaged 18 points per game in their career at Malone and given Hoffman’s track record with D2 talent, that’s exactly what she’s looking for in both experience and scoring potential.
G Lauren Scott – It must be really cool to have a legend for a grandfather, especially an old basketball legend who can help you through the game. That’s not to say that Scott is a slouch of any kind, last season she barreled through the higher level opponents of Cleveland State and IUPUI with a vigor unmatched, earning double digit points in those tough games. With the Cedarville duo now graduated, Scott should have no problem slotting into the role they filled and with the coaching she is able to receive from Hoffman directly and Williams on the side, there’s no doubt that she can help spark Wright State into a contender.
G Layne Ferrell – An Akron Zip transfer, Ferrell earned a full starting stretch in her junior year and averaged about 10 points per game. Ferrell leaves the Zips following the old coach Melissa Jackson being cut, so instead she will now join the Raiders in the final years. Standing at 6’1 and leaving from as the third highest blocker on the team, Ferrell gives the Raiders a bump in the size category while maintaining a three point presence as Ferrell shot the second most threes while on the Zips.
F Catalina Ion – Following a very personally successful stint representing Romania in FIBA competition, Ion returns to the squad as a sophomore and should be taking on a more active role in defense with the new experience under her belt. Ion wasn’t seen too many times last season, but remains one of the options off of Hoffman’s bench to deal with interior threats.
F Jada Tate – One of two graduate transfer forwards from other universities, Jada Tate (D2 Tiffin, 8.6 PPG) and Julia Hoefling (Loyola-Chicago, 1.5 PPG) bring some needed size to the front court and assistance to VanKempen. They’ll be an important presence off the bench in matchups like Purdue Fort Wayne, who have Amellia Bromenschenkel and Jazzlyn Linbo to contend with.
G Makiya Miller – Do you need an attack with some punch? Call Makiya Miller, whose specialty last season was driving past defenders on route to layups and throwing hands to get steals. Makiya earned HL Freshman OTW once last season after being a star player during the MTE in December and it’s expected that the growth will continue. Miller showed a lot of potential early and can potential be an impactful sixth member, or just the tool Hoffman needs to shake up her offense and throw opponents off the scent.
Freshmen – G Rylee Sagester and G Ellie Magestro-Kennedy are the new talent that the Raiders brought in direct from high school. Magestro-Kennedy earned honorable mentions in D1 Wisconsin basketball and led an amazing campaign throughout, averaging 18.6 points. Sagester was a highly sought after talent in Ohio after destroying the D4 scene with 401 career snipes from behind the arc, something I’m sure Coach Hoffman was dying to have in the squad. While I don’t believe we’ll see either breaking out immediately, they’re talents to keep an eye on for the future.
The key to any success for the Raiders is going to be what they can accomplish on defense. Last year, the squad was nearly the league worst in rebounding ratio and points allowed. You can trace quite a bit of that to the lack of presence underneath, where VanKempen and Loobie inherited sole ownership of the paint. Neither play like a true center, especially in comparison to other Horizon teams, and struggled against competition as a result.
Fortunately, these weaknesses seemed to be shored up by the transfer portal. Meshing into the puzzle is important, but this time Coach Hoffman won’t be starting from scratch again. If they can clamp down underneath the rim while attacking like Steph Curry from the arc, Wright State could be a dark horse to watch for this season.
HoriZone Roundtable Prediction
Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below:
Preview Week Recap Part 1 | Preview Week Recap Part 2