Archdeacon: COVID-hit team finally gets a win

Wright State women’s team routs Lake Erie College

FAIRBORN – The team that mostly refuses to take a shot now couldn’t miss one.

Wright State women’s basketball team – which was playing its first game in 21 days because positive COVID tests of some of its players and coaches had resulted in a quarantine of the majority-unvaccinated team, the cancellation of two games and the forfeiture of two more – was hitting nearly every shot it took in the early going of what would be a 91-60 rout of Division II Lake Erie College Wednesday at the Nutter Center.

It was WSU’s first victory after starting the season 0-7.

In the first 5 ½ minutes of play, the Raiders made all five of their three-point attempts and eight of their 10 total shots and that had the crowd of 2,700 Miami Valley school kids in attendance for the annual education day game, roaring in delight through the masks they all wore or tried to wear.

WSU’s unexpected marksmanship – the Raiders came into the game ranked 306th among Division I teams in field goal accuracy (35.3 percent) – had the players feeling almost invincible.

And that prompted White to flex both biceps in a two-armed muscle pose after she finished off an up-and-under drive to the basket with a perfect backward flip of the ball for two points.

Yet, when it’s come to another shot – the COVID-19 vaccines – the Raiders are considerably more timid.

Head coach Kari Hoffman confirmed again Wednesday that the majority of her players and staff are not vaccinated.

That’s a rarity in Division I college basketball.

Several D-I teams in the region are 100 percent vaccinated or close to it.

That’s what the Horizon League is hoping for and why it punishes teams with forfeitures when their positive COVID tests keep them from playing a conference game. Last season most of those interrupted games were rescheduled, but that was before vaccines were available.

Now teams are expected to play and when they can’t, they must take a loss.

That happened to WSU when it couldn’t play Purdue Fort Wayne on Dec. 3 and Cleveland State two days later.

Even though she said she is vaccinated, Hoffman tested positive for COVID early this month. Since then at least two assistant coaches and two players also tested positive.

The team – which is tested three times a week because of its unvaccinated status – was put into quarantine.

“We had to stay in our rooms,” said junior guard Jada Roberson, who had 19 points and seven assists Wednesday. “We weren’t allowed to go to the gym. Nothing.”

Senior guard K.K. White, who led the Raiders with 20 points and 13 rebounds against Lake Erie, said she took her classes online and did workouts in her room.

“The coaches would send us things to do,” she said. “Like I’d put on my book bag and then did push ups.”

In their 21-day exile, the Raiders had just one practice with Hoffman.

While that presents physical challenges for a team, it’s even tougher on players mentally, said Hoffman.

While simply getting vaccinated would seem to alleviate much of the stress, White wasn’t sure.

She said when it came to the vaccine, players were “mostly nervous about getting it. We really don’t know what to do. People who get vaccinated can still catch COVID.”

While Hoffman was relieved the team finally could suit up for a game again Wednesday, she worried COVID might reoccur: “We might get hit again.”

She said the Raiders are susceptible “basically until it runs through our entire team and everyone is immune to it. "

She and athletics director Bob Grant said they don’t ask people about their vaccination status and don’t feel it is their right to tell others they must be vaccinated.

“I don’t know about that, that’s something I don’t track at all,” Grant said. “We follow the COVID protocols put out by the league and we test regularly. But of our coaching staff and employees, I don’t know who is vaccinated and who is not.

“I don’t feel it’s in my place to ask that.”

Hoffman, who took over the WSU job in late May after former coach Katrina Merriweather left for Memphis, had similar thoughts: “I can’t say anything (to the players or staff). It’s just not in my place. Everyone has different beliefs.”

The COVID saga is just one scenario playing out with the WSU women’s team.

Coming into this season, the Raiders had eight straight winning seasons and made the NCAA Tournament three times in that span, including twice in the past three years.

Last season they went 19-8, won the Horizon League regular season and tournament and knocked off Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Hoffman was just as successful as Cedarville University, where she followed a hall of fame playing career with five seasons – and 106 wins – as the head coach.

But Merriweather took two players with her to Memphis and the team’s star – Angel Baker – transferred to Ole Miss.

The marriage of Hoffman and the returning players has had some glitches.

Last month the coach said players were struggling “to buy in” to her efforts. Since then, two returning players – 6-foot-2 junior Shamarre Hale, a veteran of 61 games, and 5-foot-9 sophomore guard Constance Chaplin – were dismissed from the team.

“It’s been hard to adjust,” Roberson admitted. “It’s been bumpy, but we’re halfway through now.”

White agreed: “The whole season has been a struggle, but we’re trying to come together and today, this uplifted us.”

Hoffman praised her team afterward. She said she was “proud” of them for hanging in there for what has been nine difficult months.

The Raiders – who next play at Indiana on Dec. 21 – ended up shooting 56 percent (14 of 25) from three-point range Wednesday and 46.7 percent (35 of 75) on all field goal attempts.

Jada Wright added 14 points and 15 rebounds and Channing Chappell went 4 for 6 from long range for 12 points.

At the end of the game, the grinning players all congregated at center court and waved to the cheering kids.

“This was the perfect game to come back for,” Hoffman said. “There was tons of energy in the arena.”

“This will be the perfect elixir for them,” Grant said.

“Winning certainly cures everything.”

Everything, except COVID.

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