Wright State women ready to stand tall against Michigan

Wright State’s women’s basketball team doesn’t have a starter taller than 5-foot-10. The lack of height hasn’t hampered the Raiders that much, though, as they enter a second-round Women’s National Invitational Tournament game on Saturday at Michigan with a 25-8 record.

Wright State will have a big challenge in the paint against the Wolverines. Hallie Thome, a 6-5 sophomore center, averages 15 points and 7.2 rebounds for Michigan. Thome was a first team all-Big Ten selection and had 11 rebounds against Wright State last season in a first-round WNIT game, which Michigan won 81-53.

The Raiders have won in spite of a height disadvantage before, and junior Chelsea Welch said there’s no reason they can’t do it again.

“Going to a BCS school and playing bigger girls, we’ve been doing it in a lot of games,” Welch said. “It’s nothing different, they’re just a name. We’re going to go into it like every game and just play hard.”

Welch, a Fairmont High School graduate, led Wright State with 21 points in a 66-64 win over Central Michigan on Thursday at the Nutter Center. Symone Simmons, a 5-10 forward, scored a career-high 20 points and had seven rebounds against the Chippewas.

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Simmons and junior forward Lexi Smith (who is listed as 5-11 but is actually a half-inch shorter according to first-year coach Katrina Merriweather) have led the Raiders in the paint this season. They’ve also helped the team move quickly on defense, which Welch said is crucial to winning.

“A lot of times we are undersized, but we have many different ways of making up for it, and our first line of defense is ball pressure,” Welch said. “If we can make that pass a lot harder, we can adjust.”

Besides playing undersized, Wright State has also become accustomed to close games. Thursday’s the Raiders’ fourth in the last month decided by five points or less, three of which have been wins. After trailing by three with two minutes left, the Raiders scored the last five points.

“They never cease to amaze me,” Merriweather said. “They figure out a way to win. It’s not always pretty, but they play hard and they play together. They have so much fight in them that when we make a couple of mistakes, they hunker down and get stops.”

Regardless of the outcome Saturday, Merriweather said it’s a good learning experience for the young team. Most of Wright State’s players are underclassmen, including all five starters.

“Before tonight, there were only 128 teams still playing, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to still be playing,” Merriweather said.

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