The Wright State women’s basketball team, including seniors (center) Mackenzie Taylor and Emily Vogelpohl, celebrate a win over Green Bay in the Horizon League championship game on Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Jose Juarez/CONTRIBUTED

Archdeacon: Powered by trio of seniors, Wright State is a ‘championship team’

When the championship game of the Horizon League Tournament ended Tuesday, Wright State forward Symone Simmons dropped to her knees in the far corner of the court and tried covering her eyes as tears streamed down her face.

A year ago on this same Little Caesars Arena court, her WSU teammate Mackenzie Taylor was on the floor, dazed and in tears, after an unintentional, but forceful, headbutt by Green Bay’s Jen Wellnitz. 

That summed up the day for WSU, which was bullied by Green Bay in an 18-point loss.

Tuesday, in yet another title tussle with the Phoenix, everything was different.

This time it was Green Bay left feeling the pain.

Wright State out-battled the Phoenix, 55-52, and when the game ended the Raiders — those who had been in the game and those on the bench — turned the midcourt into a celebratory mosh pit.

Except for Simmons.

Overcome by a rush of emotion, she dropped where she stood at the final buzzer.

“We just worked really hard for this and I was overwhelmed that it was finally coming true,” she said. “I just let it wash over me.”

The Wright State women are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history. The only other trip was in 2014.

That was two seasons before Simmons and fellow seniors Emily Vogelpohl and Taylor joined the program as freshmen. Today they make up the winningest class in WSU women’s basketball history.

The Raiders are 27-6 this season and 99-37 over four years.

Starting with coach Mike Bradbury and now under third-year coach Katrina Merriweather, Wright State has developed into one of the best mid-major programs and yet the Raiders’ nemesis had remained Green Bay.

Coming into this season, Green Bay had beaten WSU 35 of the last 36 times the teams had played — the lone exception was that 2014 title game — and had an overall 62-4 record against WSU.

Green Bay had won seven of the last eight league titles, 16 of 21 and has gone to 18 NCAA tournaments.

All that rocky history is a path Merriweather wanted her team to stay away from.

“Every team in every year is one unto itself,” she said. “What happened before doesn’t matter. All that matters is right here, right now, this moment. This is a championship team.

“I have tremendous respect for Green Bay because they are a championship program and we want to move in that direction. But right now we are a championship team.”

This year WSU beat Green Bay in two of the three games the teams played. The Raiders won by 18 at the Nutter Center in early January and lost by 19 in early February in Wisconsin.

WSU held the lead for much of the game Tuesday and led by 11 at the half. While junior guard Michal Miller — who transferred in this season after starting at Arizona and then playing last year at a Texas community college — was the one who hit several of the key shots early in the game to set the tone, finished with 13 and was the MVP of the tournament, it was on the backs of that trio of four-year seniors that WSU got this title.

Simmons, the only Raider to score 1,000 career points and grab 1000 rebounds, finished with 14 boards against the bigger Phoenix. She added eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Taylor, who made the all-tournament team, had seven points and 38 in three tournament games.

Vogelpohl led WSU with 14 points and took control for the Raiders when Green Bay inched into the lead in the fourth quarter,

She controlled the tempo and hit some big shots, none bigger than her three with 6:52 left as Merriweather was signaling frantically for a timeout.

The ball had gotten away from Taylor in a drive down the lane and as everybody was scrambling around for it on the court, it finally ended up in Vogelpohl’s hands just as the shot clock was about to expire.

Merriweather tried to call time, but instead Vogelpohl launched a three that put WSU ahead 47-38.

“Thank goodness I didn’t get to over-coach that possession,” Merriweather said with a laugh afterward. “The referee was ignoring my timeout, thank goodness.

“Emily is great at this. She knows when to shoot and has the freedom, the green light, whenever she feels it.

“I really can’t say enough about her. She sacrificed personal recognition this year to play the point guard and lead this team. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that the kid is a first team all-league player. She didn’t make it this year, but that’s because she sacrificed for the greater good.”

In her career Vogelpohl has scored 1,379 points, sixth best all-time at WSU. Taylor has 1,275 career points.

“Four years ago the three of us dreamed of a day like this and now it’s happened,” Taylor said. “It’s just a whirlwind of emotion right now.”

And no one seemed caught up in it more than Simmons.

She lay down on the stage set up at midcourt and let her teammates drop confetti on her.

“I’m just trying to soak every bit of this in I can,” she said, tears again streaming down her face. “I just want to take in everything.”

And sure enough, later as workers were sweeping the confetti in piles, there she was off by herself, holding an oversized cardboard placard that looked like an oversized ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

WSU had punched its ticket and now she swayed and dipped and twirled with that cardboard, moving to her own beat, whispering the same phrase over and over:

“We’re going dancing.

“Oh yeah, we’re going dancing.”

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