Wright State women’s basketball: Chappell excited for season, glad she stuck it out

FAIRBORN — Wright State junior guard Channing Chappell didn’t know how to process the mass exodus of players following the coaching change last year, and she couldn’t understand the motivation behind so many of her teammates leaving.

She’s a lead-by-example player, one who’d fit in with any staff and takes direction well. But she was about 1,000 miles from her home near Jacksonville, Fla., and though her parents provided constant support, she went through doubt and discouragement while ending up one of only two players left on the roster.

“From the beginning, we knew it was going to be a tough year,” she said of the transition from Katrina Merriweather to new coach Kari Hoffman. “As the season went on, we didn’t face adversity very well. We didn’t mesh as a team. It was just a super tough season mentally and physically.

“Pretty much every other day, there was something new going on. I’ve always been the person to just go out and play. I’ve never been into trash talk. And all that drama was so hard to deal with.”

But Chappell, the only player to start all 23 games last season, loved the new staff as much as the old, and Hoffman’s playing style fit her game. And besides, she felt a loyalty to the program that took a chance on her.

Growing up in Ponte Vedra Beach — across the street from the famed TPC Sawgrass golf course, the site of the Players Championship — she figured out pretty quickly that her only path to a Division-I college was to transfer to a sports-centric private school.

She chose DME Academy in Daytona Beach for her final two years, which meant a long-distance commute.

“She drove 180 miles each day and never was late one time,” said her father, Dave Chappell. “She didn’t know where she’d end up playing. They said she’d be a Division-II player, but she was bound and determined to play Division-I basketball.

“She busted her tail and played as hard as she could and was a great teammate. Katrina saw her at an AAU tournament and fell in love with her.”

Channing was invited up for a visit and committed on the spot.

It was her only D-I offer, but Raider opponents will probably wish they hadn’t overlooked her.

She averaged a team-high 33.1 minutes last season and 6.7 points per game. She shot almost 80% from the foul line and had the second-most assists with 46.

“She’s Steady Eddie. That’s what I call her. She’s consistent every single day. You know what you’re going to get from her,” Hoffman said.

“Obviously, she’s been through a lot since she’s been here, but I think it’s made her stronger. That’s a testament to her character and who she is and how bad she wants this.”

She’s expected to thrive in Hoffman’s offense, which creates plenty of 3-point looks. Against Robert Morris as a freshman, Chappell hit all six of her shots beyond the arc and finished with 22 points in 28 minutes.

“The first one went in, then the second and the third. Katrina called a few plays for me, and I hit a few more,” Chappell said. “The game was close, and I hit some shots down the stretch. I was just feeling it.”

Hoffman, whose team hosts Ohio Dominican in an exhibition at 3 p.m. Saturday, expects to see a night or two like that from Chappell this year.

“She’s got a dead-eye shot. That’s really needed in our offense with how we play,” the coach said.

“Her effort is unmatched. She just wants it really bad, and you can tell that in how she plays.”

After going to the NCAA tourney as a freshman and being part of an upset of Arkansas in the first round, there weren’t many high points last season. The Raiders finished 4-19 for their lowest win total in 30 years.

For the competitive Chappell, the losses — coupled with the locker room tension — were hard to take.

“I’m very close with my family. I talk to my mom and dad pretty much every day. They helped me a lot through it,” she said.

“I talked to Kari a lot about what was going on. She helped me through it, too. There were definitely times during the season when I wanted to call it quits. But they kept me going.”

She also took some healthy steps on her own.

“On weekends, I’d distance myself from the drama. (Getting away) helped me to relax and have a minute to just breathe.”

Dave Chappell owns a promotional business that provides work apparel for companies — Firehouse Subs is one of his biggest clients — and he’s tried to instill in his four children what’s worked for him.

“We just stay positive and encourage them and tell them we love them. They’re really well-grounded. And every day, you try to make it a special day and go win at whatever you have to go through.”

Youngest daughter Regan has followed her sister’s path and is enrolled at DME Academy.

“No. 1, she’s a great person,” he said of Channing. “She has an unbelievable heart. She loves her family. Then, she loves basketball.”

He and wife Carmen have made regular trips to the Nuttter Center, and he came up a few weeks ago for a Father-Daughter weekend orchestrated by Hoffman.

‘That was really special,” he said. “We had almost all the dads there. Sunday, we had to get up and talk about our daughters. It was really neat to hear the dads — there were a lot of tears in that room.

“That’s what this coaching staff is doing, trying to mold it that way (with a family atmosphere).”

What Dave Chappell saw on that weekend was what every parent wants: a happy kid.

Channing and Fairmont grad Makira Webster have 13 new teammates this year. Hoffman and assistant Megan Leuzinger have had the players to their homes frequently, playing games like cornhole, pickleball and charades to help with team bonding.

It’s working.

“We have a lot of goofy, funny players on this team,” Chappell said. “The meals and bus trips and all the off-the-court stuff during the season should be fun.”

She expects a few more smiles on the court, too.

“I know the (Horizon League) preseason poll came out, and we were picked 10th. I’ll be SHOCKED if we end up that low,” Chappell said.

“I think we’re really going to surprise some people this year. We’ve got a bunch of shooters and a lot of smart players that play well together.”

About the Author