Wright State women’s basketball: Hoffman revamps roster with 12 new players

FAIRBORN — Wright State women’s basketball coach Kari Hoffman took a vacation last week to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., with husband Jimmy and their three young kids. And other than getting sunburned on the first day, it was as refreshing as she hoped it’d be after such a trying first season.

She inherited 12 players from previous coach Katrina Merriweather — not counting the four stars who transferred as soon as Merriweather left. And not only did the team stumble to a 4-23 record, but there was non-stop strife internally.

Three players graduated and are using their free year of eligibility from the pandemic at other schools — two of them joining Merriweather at Memphis, giving her four former Raiders on the roster.

Four others are transferring. And another three quit or were dismissed during the season.

The only returning players are sophomore guards Channing Chappell (6.7 points per game) and Makira Webster (2.5).

“It was very challenging,” Hoffman said. “Obviously, we had our struggles on the floor, but I would say it was more (difficult) on the practice floor and off the court.”

The Raiders were down to seven players by the end of the season and had to dress student manager Jordan Stanley just to have enough bodies.

Hoffman had a 135-50 record with three league titles in five years at Cedarville University. But the holdovers not only clashed with the new regime, but also with each other.

“There will always be teaching moments off the court, but I do feel like we have our minds wrapped around: ‘We not messing around off the floor anymore. We’re buying in right away,’” Hoffman said.

“I’ll teach them a little bit, but if they don’t meet us halfway, if they don’t get to the level of what we want, then it’s just not worth messing around with.”

Hoffman and her staff restocked the roster with what has to be the biggest recruiting class in the nation: Six college transfers and six incoming freshmen.

Kacee Baumhower, a freshman guard from St. Bonaventure, joined the Raiders near the end of the season and will be eligible next year. And the Raiders picked up three other Division-I transfers: Santa Clara senior guard Bryce Nixon, Valparaiso senior guard Cara VanKempen and Central Michigan junior forward Rachel Loobie.

The two leading scorers from Division II Cedarville — recruited and coached by Hoffman — also are Wright State-bound.

“The transfer season was about three or four weeks. It happens fast,” Hoffman said. “The minute they get in the portal, we’re calling them right away and trying to get them on a visit.”

“Getting high character players was the most important part to me to not repeat what happened this year with off-the-court stuff — and trying to get players who’ll stay because they fit us and our culture.”

The 6-foot-1 Loobie “fills a big need for us in bringing in some height and athleticism. Cara brings a lot of experience from Valpo (75 games played), as well as Bryce (55). They’re very tall wings.”

Emily Chapman, a 5-5 guard, averaged 15.9 and a team-high 2.6 assists for the Yellow Jackets. The fifth-year senior shot 88% on free throws and 44% on 3′s last season and has 1,276 career points.

Isabelle Bolender, a 5-10 junior guard, was second in scoring (13.2) and third in rebounding (4.8). Both have been first-team all-conference picks.

“The best players in Division II can absolutely have success at our level,” Hoffman said. “Emily and Izzy know our coaching style. They know what we like in a player. They know what we like off the floor in our culture.”

A few of the recruits look like impact players.

Catalina Ion, a 6-1 center from IMG Academy, is a native of Romania and has extensive international experience. And guard Taylor Johnson-Matthews from Lyndhurst Brush was the MVP of the Ohio Division I-II North-South game last month after pouring in 28 points.

“Taylor is just a tough-nosed wing player who gets to the hoop and can finish well,” Hoffman said, adding that the MVP award “tells you how prepared she is.”

The Raiders will be so unfamiliar with each other that team building will be a necessity. They might need to start offseason workouts this summer with introductions and icebreakers.

“We learned a lot as a coaching staff. And I’m really thankful for the administration, which we felt was supporting us the entire way,” Hoffman said.

She added with a chuckle: “A lot of coaches say year two is even harder than year one. I’m not sure it can get any harder than last year.”

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