#HLWBB Starting Five: Pickle Empire Edition

Photo: IUPUI Athletics

Welcome (back) to the Starting Five, your occasional offseason rundown of the key stories in #HLWBB, posted on a schedule that largely depends on how often key stories happen. If you remember that I did these posts during the summers of 2021 and 2023 (I spent most of 2022 outside touching grass, if you can believe that), thanks for being around that long. But if you don’t, all you really need to know is that the order is absolutely meaningless and that you’re more than welcome to hit me up on the X-Box with suggestions for the next edition. Congrats, you’re caught up.

1. Where’s Wolterman?

Some on our staff call it “Horizon-on-Horizon crime” when a player transfers between conference schools, but I prefer to just think of it as “hey, I still get to watch a player I enjoyed watching.” That’s certainly true of Faith Burch (Cleveland State to Youngstown State) and Kacee Baumhower (Wright State to Milwaukee), and it’s also true of former IUPUI forward Abby Wolterman, who committed to Northern Kentucky and new coach Jeff Hans on Tuesday.

Wolterman’s departure from the soon-to-be-renamed school was at least a modest surprise, given that she initially committed to Kate Bruce at Walsh University before following her to Indianapolis, and her role as a central player for the Jags. She’s from Cincinnati, so the move makes sense on that level, but it also could prove a nice basketball opportunity for the rising junior, who averaged 8.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season.

She’s not necessarily a classic post banger, but she is a high-motor demon who can outwork just about anyone underneath, while being an incredibly efficient (54.3 effective field goal percentage) and versatile scorer. Wolterman, coincidentally, had a career-high 16 points against the Norse back on January 14th, but that was just one game in a streak of seven straight double-digit outings, a run that included opponents like Cleveland State, Green Bay, and Purdue Fort Wayne.

2. Two outgoing NKU stars find new homes

High-profile transfer departures are a simple fact of life in any mid-major conference. But a lot of the reason that moves like adding Wolterman and retaining Allison Basye (who entered the transfer portal and later withdrew) are so massive for NKU, in particular, is that the Norse lost two all-league performers with remaining eligibility: Carter McCray and Khamari Mitchell-Steen.

That part is old news, even if the shockwaves haven’t totally died down. What isn’t as old is that both players have found impressive new schools, with HL Freshman of the Year McCray joining the Wisconsin Badgers and conference third-team pick Mitchell-Steen heading down to Florida Gulf Coast University, one of the top mid-major programs in the country.  

McCray became one of top handful of players in the Horizon League as a rookie, and was someone that ten conference programs weren’t excited to see around for another three years (though really, the odds of that actually transpiring were always pretty long, if we’re being honest), and it will certainly be interesting to see how she translates to the Big Ten and a Badgers program that seems like it’s finally on the way up after a couple decades of routine thumpings at the hands of Green Bay. As you might expect, the Northeast Ohio native was in extremely high demand.

“The first day in class, after I got into the (transfer portal), my phone was blowing up,” she told the Lorain Morning Journal. “I was getting emails and texts from coaches. I was trying to filter (the offers) through and prioritize my own priorities and the things that I want. It is stressful, not knowing where I am going to go and balance out visits with schoolwork.”

She eventually settled on Wisconsin because of the level of basketball, naturally, but also because of the school’s reputations for academics and campus life.

3. Cover Girl

Hey, why not keep this post entirely about IUPUI and Northern Kentucky for one more entry?

When the Jaguars announced the addition of Katie Davidson for 2023-24, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I looked her up, of course, and saw that she put up some very solid numbers at Miami from 2020-22, but I also saw that there was no trace of her during the 2022-23 season. I’ve always wondered about that missing year. An injury is usually the obvious guess in those types of situations, but there are certainly tons of potential answers.

It’s always a fine line to walk as someone who…sure, I want to be a good journalist, but I’ve never been all that interested in the stuff that makes journalists super famous these days: breaking news, often at the expense of the subject of that news, in one way or another. I would’ve loved to know what Davidson was doing in 2022-23, but at the same time, I don’t really see it as any of my business. I’m more interested in a good story, and that’s why I was thrilled that Davidson elected to tell hers, to Ninety-Four Forty.

As someone who has his own mental health struggles, it’s really fantastic that more and more people are willing to talk about theirs, particularly when they’re objectively one of the cool kids, a star player on a college basketball team. Davidson is a phenomenal player and (while I don’t really know her) she seems like a solid person from everything I’ve seen, so I’m thrilled that she’s in a good place.

4. Mastodons load up on star potential

The transfer portal closed on May 1st, and while players who had already entered the portal can still commit to new schools, of course, Purdue Fort Wayne jumped out in front of everyone by pumping out a full release on their haul.

It’s obviously a pivotal offseason for the Mastodons, who have grown into one of the Horizon League’s top programs under Maria Marchesano, but now face a pretty substantial reload. It certainly could be a lot worse with the likes of Amellia Bromenschenkel, Audra Emmerson, Jazzy Linbo, Renna Schwieterman and Sydney Graber all expected back, but graduation and the transfer portal took away everyone else, including longtime face of the program Shayla Sellers, starting point guard Destinee Marshall, and all-HL freshman team pick Erin Woodson.

The six transfer additions offer plenty of relief on that front though, with Sydney Freeman (Ball State, Dayton) and Lauren Ross (Western Michigan, Michigan State) bringing top-line impact to the Dons. Shortly after Freeman committed, I received an anonymous (to you, not to me) DM saying that PFW just found their next Sellers. That’s pretty high praise, even if Marchesano sees the Hoosier as more in line with a Marshall.

“Adding Sydney to our team is both exciting and very much needed after graduating our starting point guard from last season,” Marchesano said in the school’s release. “Her ability to push the ball from A to B is about as elite as they come. She’s a willing passer that can score it from all levels.”

Ross, meanwhile, was an elite scorer at Western Michigan, including 22.1 points per game in 2022-23 and north of 1,500 points over her career. The 5-10 Muskegon, MI native hit 33.7 percent of her threes two seasons ago, which obviously meshes pretty well with the Dons’ offense.

Freeman and Ross are each on their final year of eligibility, meaning that Marchesano and company will have to do this all over again next summer. But for the time being, Purdue Fort Wayne looks ready for contention once again.

5. Street cred

I usually like to close these with something a little lighter, similar to the end of a local newscast, hopefully a reference that one of you gets.

When Kevin Borseth retired as Green Bay’s long-running and ultra-successful coach on April 10th, one bit of news from the press conference was that a street adjacent to the Kress Center would be named “Kevin Borseth Way.” Given that there are a finite number of streets in the world, I suppose there’s an argument that the honor outranks a statue on the tribute hierarchy – which is fine with me to be honest, the real Borseth is scary enough, no need to make him 12 feet tall.

The formal ceremony took place this week (the entire thing is available on YouTube), though it quickly dissolved into comedy when the string Borseth pulled to unveil the new street sign disconnected and a piggyback ride was required to remove the black covering.

Also, as I watched it, I realized that I had totally misunderstood which road they were naming; this won’t mean much to people who have never been to the UWGB campus, but it’s a road that sort of loops around the Kress Center, connecting parking areas, while also running alongside Aldo Santaga Stadium, where the Phoenix play soccer. It connects to Leon Bond Drive, a major campus thoroughfare named after a guy who founded a now-defunct pickle company in nearby Oconto, got rich off of it, and liked to donate money to things.

So that’s another way to get your name on a street sign, if that’s something that interests you.

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