Wright State women’s basketball: Hoffman sees potential in revamped Raiders

Credit: © Courtesy Wright State Univers

Credit: © Courtesy Wright State Univers

FAIRBORN — Kari Hoffman, the second-year Wright State women’s basketball coach, gave her roster a complete overhaul in the offseason, retaining just two players and bringing in 13 new ones.

It was exhausting but necessary. The Raiders went 4-19 last season and were plagued from the start by internal strife.

After a highly successful run at Cedarville, Hoffman knew she’d be in for a challenge in moving up to Division I, but she certainly didn’t figure on having to assemble what’s likely the biggest recruiting class in the country this year — maybe in the last several years — and there wasn’t exactly a blueprint on how to do it.

Yet, with the start of the season just days away, Hoffman is upbeat about her personnel. And since the Horizon League always seems to produce a surprise contender every year, she doesn’t see why the Raiders can’t be that team.

“It’s been great to see how our recruiting efforts have paid off with like-minded players. They all want the same thing. They really seem to enjoy playing with each other,” Hoffman said.

“Obviously, we haven’t faced any adversity yet. That’ll be coming. … But you never know how a team of 15 new faces will jell together, and they’ve responded better than I expected.”

The Raider staff brought in seven college transfers, along with six freshmen. And while they may have needed nametags at first, they seem to have bonded well.

“We’ve just taught a ton — like how you talk to each other in huddles, how you communicate and what we’re looking for. And they’ve done a really good job with that,” Hoffman said.

The Raiders lost 85% of their scoring and nearly 90% of their rebounding. But junior guards Channing Chappell (6.7 points per game) and Makira Webster (2.5) are solid returnees, and a few newcomers have begun separating from the pack.

Cara Vankempen, a 6-foot-1 forward from Valparaiso, and Bryce Nixon, a 5-10 guard from Santa Clara, have extensive D-I experience. And two former Cedarville players, 5-5 guard Emily Chapman and 5-10 guard Isabelle Bolender, are former All-Great Midwest Conference picks.

“The Cedarville girls know our expectations and how we like to defend. Our offense is somewhat similar. That’s been hopeful because they’re almost like the returners. They had a head start on those things,” Hoffman said.

The Raiders won some key recruiting battles among the freshmen, and at least two of them, 5-9 guard Taylor Johnson-Matthews and 5-7 guard Makiya Miller, will get immediate playing time.

“Makiya is a high-IQ player, and Taylor has really filled a huge role for us (with her versatility),” the coach said.

The Raiders, though, are still learning how to mesh on the court after so much roster turnover. Much of that is intuitive and takes time.

“That’ll be one of our biggest hurdles this year — just creating that chemistry that normally returners would have,” Hoffman said.

The Raiders, who were picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the HL preseason poll, have a home exhibition against Ohio Dominican at 3 p.m. Saturday. Their first game is at Toledo at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 7.

The non-league schedule is brutal with six of the seven games on the road, including trips to Ohio State and Tennessee.

But Hoffman’s primary focus is on how her team is playing in March, and she’s just looking for steady progress until then.

And after a dreary maiden season, she’s thrilled to finally see some camaraderie in the program.

“The biggest thing I tell people is this group is fun to coach — because they’re coachable. They’re allowing us to do our jobs and responding to everything we say to them,” she said.

“Coming from what we came from last year, it’s been a huge bright spot for our coaching staff, and we’re enjoying every day with them.”

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