Greene County News
FAIRBORN — First-year Wright State women’s basketball Katrina Merriweather faces a unique challenge—and a unique opportunity—this winter.
The challenge will be replacing four of last year’s five starters, including Kim Demmings, the Horizon League’ all-time leading scorer. Merriweather’s opportunity will be to almost immediately remake the Raiders to fit her coaching philosophy.
“The only way we’ll make progress is for there to be a day-to-day focus on getting better, both individually and as a team,” said Merriweather, who took over the Raiders after spending the last six seasons as an assistant to Mike Bradbury. “We’re still Wright State. We’ll still have a target on our backs. We have to step up to that challenge.”
That target was applied because the Raiders have won 20 or more games and appeared in postseason tournaments five times in six years under Merriweather and Bradbury, now head coach at New Mexico. Last year’s team earned a spot in the Women’s NIT and finished 24-11.
Gone from that group are Demmings, who averaged 20.2 points and scored 2,677 career points; Richelle van der Keijl, the 6-foot-5 center who transferred to New Mexico for her final season of eligibility; and Symone Denham, who started all 35 games and was second on the team with 97 assists. Senior forward Antania Hayes, Wright State’s No. 2 scorer (12.2), is recovering from a knee injury suffered during last season’s Horizon League tournament and her return this season is doubtful.
The new-look Raiders will build around a core of four players who took part in at least 33 games and a key transfer.
Sophomore guard/forward Emily Vogelpohl was named to the league’s all-freshman team after scoring 10.6 points per game and leading the Raiders in both assists (99) and steals (68). Another true freshman last year, guard Mackenzie Taylor, was second on the team with 48 3-point goals.
Junior Lexi Smith, who averaged 6.0 points and 6.2 rebounds in 35 games, is projected to be the new defensive presence at center. Sophomore guard/forward Symone Simmons contributed 5.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 34 games, but is also trying to work her way back from a knee injury.
One new starter in a key role will be likely be junior point guard Chelsea Welch, who transferred to Wright State from Pittsburgh last year and will have two years of eligibility remaining. She appeared in 30 games in both of her seasons at Pitt, scoring a career-high 16 points against North Carolina State as a freshman.
“Chelsea is a vocal leader and a versatile player whom we can use at any position 1 through 4,” Merriweather said of the 5-foot-9 Welch.
Alexyse Thomas, a 6-3 sophomore, will see plenty of time in the post. Freshmen guards Myrthe den Heeten, from the Netherlands, Jalise Beck and Carly Clodfelter will also work into the backcourt rotation. Julia Copfer, a 6-foot freshman, joined the team during the preseason and will add depth in the post positions.
Merriweather said the Raiders will step up on their defensive pressure and intensity to make up for not being able to depend on a 6-5 shot blocker waiting behind them.
“I think we will be able to play defense and rebound and work for high-percentage shots,” Merriweather said. “There may be times when we don’t have a post player on the floor. But we will always play aggressive, attacking defense with a sense of urgency.”
That sense of urgency, in time, could lead to Wright State’s players performing at a similar level, and experiencing similar success, under Merriweather as during the last six seasons.
“Our players are going to have to step up and take ownership and responsibility for their roles,” Merriweather said. “We have a lot of talent. We’ll see how it pans out.”
The Raiders open the season 7 p.m. tonight Friday, Nov. 11 at Tennessee Tech. The home opener is 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, against Grace (IN).
Story courtesy of Andrew Call and Wright State University Athletics.