The best players already had transferred out by then and most of the rest of the roster, none of which she had recruited, chafed at the coaching change and before long was teetering between malaise and mutiny.
The team staggered to a 4-23 record, the program’s worst mark in 30 years. It was a stark turn-around from the previous season – when the Raiders upset No. 4 Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament – and a shock for a program that had been in the NCAA Tournament or WNIT in seven of the previous eight years.
Hoffman, who before WSU had been extremely successful at nearby Division II Cedarville – winning 105 games in five seasons and twice being named the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Year – completely revamped the roster for this season with 12 new players and just three returnees, two of whom had played last year.
Among the new faces, senior guard Emily Chapman, a Cedarville transfer, has 107 college games on her resume, but no one has more Division I experience than Nixon, a former four-star recruit with an impressive family pedigree.
She’s already played in 105 college games, 50 in two seasons at Arizona and 55 more the past two years at Santa Clara.
Thanks to an extra COVID year granted by the NCAA, the 5-foot-10 guard has come to WSU as a grad student transfer.
“Along with her experience, she gives us a big confidence boost by just being so composed,” Hoffman said. “That’s how she is off the floor and that’s how she plays on the floor. She’s just a composed young woman.”
Another word that now might describe her would be:
“I couldn’t ask for a better college experience,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better coaching staff or better teammates.
“I love the positivity here. They really care about you as a person and that is rare. We’re getting positive reinforcement all the time. I’ve never had that before. And I love it. It’s what I wanted.”
Nixon’s family tree is ripe with athletic renown.
Her mom – then Shelley Fehrman – was a three-time All American high jumper at the University of Texas who competed in four U.S. Olympic Trials. Her dad, Chuck, was a defensive back at San Diego State.
He uncle, Tory Nixon, was a cornerback with the San Francisco 49ers and part of their Super Bowl XXIII team that beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Miami in 1989. Her uncle, Brandon Nixon, was a standout basketball player for UC San Diego.
Bryce was a four-star recruit at Arcadia High in Phoenix and became one of just three players in Arizona history since 1973 to score over 2,000 points and have over 500 assists in her prep career.
Heavily recruited, she chose the nearby University of Arizona and while she played in 33 games as a freshman – third most for a first-year player in program history – she did so coming off the bench.
“That can be hard because most kids come out of their high school as one of the best on their team and then they go to college and they’re not that anymore,” she said.
“Going from high school to a big program like Arizona, everything is faster and quicker and the girls are stronger. It definitely a transition and you have to find your role and do what’s best for the team.”
When she got there, the Wildcats were rebuilding their program and she helped them go 24-13 and win the WNIT after finishing a dismal 6-24 the season before she got there.
By her sophomore year, Arizona had further upgraded its roster and her court time lessened some. When she decided to transfer, she got considerable interest, including from Oregon State, Colorado State and Fresno State.
She chose Santa Clara and played in all but one of the Broncos’ games over the next two years. Last season she started six of 31 games, averaged 5.3 points per game and was one of the team leaders in assists and steals.
She got her undergrad degree in sociology at Santa Clara and said she made lifelong friends there.
Considering both of her previous stops, she said: “I couldn’t ask for a better college experience. It was great.”
That said, she decided she wanted something different for her final year for college basketball:
“I wanted to go somewhere where I could make an impact in every aspect of the program – both on the court and off. And I wanted to be in a positive environment. That was a really big thing for me.”
She entered the transfer portal and soon heard from WSU assistant coach Megan Leuzinger. She visited Radford and Montana, but once she met everybody at Wright State, she canceled the rest of her campus tours and decided to become a Raider.
‘Trust in each other’
“I think a couple of the other girls who came in like I did, didn’t have the kind of experiences they wanted at their last schools,” Nixon said. “Some maybe came from negative environments, that’s why this feels so special to all of us.
“There’s that positivity. We really get along well off the court and there’s a trust in each other and in the coaches.”
Although she said she’s not the most vocal person, she said she believes she leads by example.
And she did just that in last Saturday’s 72-42 exhibition victory over Division II Ohio Dominican.
Coming off the bench, she played just over half the game and made three of her five three-point attempts to finish with nine points, four steals, three rebounds, two assists and no turnovers.
Just as impressive was her bench comportment. She cheered players who were out on the court and congratulated those who came off the floor to sit next to her.
Her dad downplayed the notion that she’s looking for one final year to fully showcase her hoops talent:
“It’s more like ‘Just go and be the best you can be.’ She’s going to work on her studies and get her master’s degree. And she’s going to play as hard as she can and try to make a positive impact.
“She told me, ‘Whatever they need me to do, whatever positon they want me to play, whatever role they want me to fill, I’m going to try to do it.’
“She wants to help them turn this program around.”
And that, too, has to be music to Kari Hoffman’s ears.