Wright State women’s basketball coach Katrina Merriweather has never wanted a team that was led by a single star. She’d prefer having capable players at every position, rather than relying on one prolific scorer as the program has in recent seasons with Horizon League players of the year Chelsea Welch and Kim Demmings.
After getting off to a shaky start this season, which wasn’t unexpected with so many newcomers in the mix, the Raiders have been soaring with a balanced attack and a roster that Merriweather believes is the most talented they’ve had during her nine years in the program.
They won their second tournament of the season last weekend at the Manhattan Invitational, beating Drexel and the host Jaspers. Junior Michal Miller was named tourney MVP after scoring a team-high 16 points in the championship game.
Junior Mackenzie Taylor also was named to the all-tourney team and became the 21st player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. She’s the top scorer at 12.0 points per game, but eight other players average between 10.8 and 6.4.
The Raiders (7-3), who also were champs at the Nashville tournament over Thanksgiving weekend, have won six straight games and host Division-II Kentucky State (5-5) at 11 a.m. Thursday.
“We’ve finally got a team that’s talented enough from top to bottom like we’ve always wanted,” Merriweather said. “I knew in the beginning, because we only had three players who had a lot of minutes at Wright State, that we were going to need a little time to get the other ones adjusted to our system. And I think that’s what we’re seeing — just everybody getting a little more comfortable game after game.”
Senior Emily Vogelpohl, another 1,000-point scorer, gets the most playing time along with classmate Symone Simmons and Taylor, but 10 Raiders average double-figure minutes.
“There are days when our second five can have just as much production as our first five, and that’s really exciting,” Merriweather said.
The depth has been vital because the Raiders have had a slew of injuries that would have derailed most teams.
Tyler Frierson, a 6-4 sophomore who is averaging nine points and 10 rebounds, has had a sore knee all year. Vogelpohl has plantar fasciitis. And Taylor has had chronic back pain since her freshman year
But the player with the most perplexing issue is Miller, who has deformities in the bone structure in both feet that cause her so much discomfort that she can only play in spurts.
“When she’s in, she’s very aggressive and really attacks. Her job is to get shots up quick, get points on the board, and then I take her out and rest her,” Merriweather said.
“It’s something that occurred at birth. But after you’ve played basketball for so long and put all those miles on your feet, the more she plays, the more painful it is.”
The players have earned Merriweather’s admiration for their grit.
“I’ve got a tough squad,” she said.
They’ve had to be to navigate their non-league schedule. They started with a road trip to CSU Bakersfield, played at UNLV, spent a weekend in New York City and will travel to Charlotte next week.
Of their 12 non-conference games, only three have been at home.
“I put together this schedule so it would be challenging,” Merriweather said. “We go three time zones away and go out to tournaments because it’s just really important for them to realize what your body can do. You can perform at a high level on back-to-back days. And, hopefully, they’ll see when we have breaks between games, it will make it that much easier mentally.”