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Wright State: Merriweather expects to have strong, versatile team

The Wright State women’s basketball team has three senior stalwarts in Emily Vogelpohl, Mackenzie Taylor and Symone Simmons. And that trio has not only given the Raiders ample production on the court throughout their careers, but also a boost in recruiting.

Third-year coach Katrina Merriweather hasn’t been afraid to aim high and go after some top prospects of late because the Raiders have built up enough talent in the program that they can afford to take some risks.

“They give you a lot of confidence where I say, ‘We can go out and try to recruit some really good players because, if we miss, we’ve still got those kids,’” she said. ”Just the stability of having four-year players allows you to go out there and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve done and this is career they’ve had individually and as a class. Don’t you want to be next?’”

The Raiders, who went 23-11 last season and made their second straight WNIT trip, seem to be getting plenty of positive responses. Merriweather, who is in her ninth year in the program overall, believes the talent level has never been higher, which will give her a multitude of options.

Wright State has an exhibition against Marian, an NAIA team from Indianapolis, on Saturday, Oct. 27. The opener is at CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

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Five things to look for this season:

NEW STARTERS: The 5-8 Vogelpohl, who averaged 10.8 points last season and made the Horizon League all-defensive team, will play the point, and the 5-6 Taylor (11.2 average) will handle one wing spot. But the Raiders will have newcomers at the other positions: 6-4 sophomore Tyler Frierson, 6-2 sophomore Dasia Evans and 5-7 junior Michal Miller, a juco transfer.

Merriweather said Frierson and Evans have made the biggest jumps since last season, and she expects Miller to be a problem for opponents.

“She’s extremely skilled offensively, handles the ball well, shoots it well, passes it well,” the coach said. “I think people are going to have to really guard her. We have some legitimate 3-point threats out there.”

Simmons, a 5-10 guard who has 765 career points and 719 rebounds, will be coming off the bench after two years a starter.

VERSATILITY: The Raiders never developed much of a rotation last year, but Merriweather blames herself for that and is vowing to do something about it.

Jalise Beck, a 5-8 junior, should get a bump in minutes after backing up star guard Chelsea Welch. Imani Partlow, a 6-1 graduate transfer from Xavier, will play once she’s back from shoulder surgery. And at least two freshmen have made a splash: 5-8 Angel Baker and 5-9 Anisia Harris.

Baker was a first-team all-state pick in Indiana after averaging 22.7 points.

“If she continues to progress, she’ll be freshman of the year (in the league), hands down,” Merriweather said. “Her and Angel are far ahead of any freshmen we’ve had here.”

LOADED ROSTER: Given what the Raiders have on the bench, the first-stringers may face tougher competition in practice than they will on some game nights.

“We could start that five and ‘platoon sub’ the next five and be just as good if not arguably better,” Merriweather said.

“We’re deeper and more athletic and longer this year. I also think we’re more skilled than we’ve been in the past. There seems to be a 360(-degree) upgrade around here right now.”

DAUNTING SCHEDULE: The Raiders have four non-league games away from home against teams that made the WNIT — UNLV, Michigan State, Marist and Drexel — and another at home against Belmont, which reached the NCAA tourney.

“It’s very tough, but it needed to be,” Merriweather said. “What we’d like to do with the talent we recruited is put ourselves in a position where, if we don’t win the conference tournament, we’re in discussion for an at-large bid.”

NO WELCH: The Raiders must replace the 2018 conference player of the year in Welch, who averaged 20.6 points and 4.4 assists last year.

Forward Lexi Smith (9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game) also has graduated.

“We’re definitely going to miss what Chelsea and Lexi brought — that’s a lot of points. And what a lot of people don’t realize is Chelsea was such a presence on defense with her size at the point and her ability to guard 1 through 4,” said Merriweather, meaning point guards through power forwards.

“There’s some big shoes to fill. But it is exciting thinking we’ve got the pieces to do it.”

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