It was Senior Day at Wright State and Imani Partlow, a grad student transfer who was playing for Xavier at this time last season — was one of four Raiders players honored after their 70-65 victory over Youngstown State at the Nutter Center Sunday afternoon.
The other three – Emily Vogelpohl, Mackenzie Taylor and Symone “Junior” Simmons – have spent four seasons here and now make up the winningest class in WSU women’s basketball history.
Counting this season’s ever-growing 22-6 mark, the group has now amassed 94 victories against 37 defeats.
But as Partlow learned, it’s not just the record that defines this bunch.
While everybody else was surprised when she pulled her No. 45 jersey up over her face and briefly wept, Partlow was not:
“I knew the tears were coming because of this environment. I couldn’t keep them from coming.”
Same as she couldn’t fend her new teammates off when they showed up at her room soon after she got here and all but willed her into their group.
“I am anti-social,” she admitted. “I stayed to myself. I ate by myself. Came back to my room by myself. That’s what I was used to. Then they started coming to my room and being all in my space. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’
“I had to understand this was what it was about here.”
And once she dried her tears Sunday, the sturdy 6-foot-1 post player – microphone in hand as she stood on the gleaming Nutter Center floor — addressed the other players, especially the three other seniors, and then gave special acknowledgement to WSU head coach Trina Merriweather and her staff.
“Look at all these beautiful women,” she said. “And this is an all women’s coaching staff. No offense, but we don’t need a man in this. These women have really made something here.”
Later she explained: “I never had a female head coach before and we have an all-female staff. They done been there and done that. They understand our female issues. They understand how to make us work and win.
“Like I said, no disrespect to any man, but this shows women are powerful. We bring a lot to the table. Women are strength.”
That’s especially the case when you consider the other three seniors who were honored Sunday.
Vogelpohl led the team in scoring Sunday with 20 points, including eight straight at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second that gave WSU a lead it would never relinquish.
The 5-foot-8 senior from Cincinnati now has 1,323 points, sixth overall among WSU career scorers. She’s also second all-time in steals, sixth in assists and ninth in rebounds.
Taylor, who added 10 points including a short jumper after driving the lane and then two free throws – all in the final 14.8 seconds to seal the victory – now has 1,220 career points, No. 10 in program history.
The other senior, Junior Simmons as she is nicknamed, saved her career-best rebounding game — 21 - for this Senior Day showdown with Youngstown State, which had beaten the Raiders by 15 last month.
She is WSU’s all-time top rebounder with 992 and her 10 points gives her 990 for her career. With two regular season games left on the road and then the Horizon League tournament and the rest of the postseason that will follow, she almost certainly will become the first Raiders player to top 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“I did her real disservice when she got here, “Merriweather said with smile. “We listed her at 5-10 so other teams didn’t know we were so small. She’s really 5-8 (or as Simmons herself claims (5-foot-7 ½) and look she ends up our all-time rebounder.”
Merriweather, who took over this team three seasons ago when Mike Bradbury left to take the New Mexico job, said these seniors success is “a tribute to what happens when you stick it out through the goods and the bads, the ups and downs.”
When the trio came to WSU – when Merriweather was Bradbury’s top assistant — they were part of a six-player recruiting class. Three of those players eventually left the program, either transferring or quitting basketball altogether, Taylor said.
She nearly was the fourth casualty. She came off the bench that first season under Bradbury and wasn’t used to his sometimes abrasive style.
“I was ready to go after that season,” she admitted Sunday. “Bradbury is a good coach and has his style that works, but I didn’t love the game anymore. But with the coaching change I had an opportunity and Trina believed in me and it’s paid off.”
She became a three-year starter, known especially for her long-range threes.
One Raider after another praised Merriweather on Sunday for believing in them and pushing them.
“Every single person is different and I believe they have to be coached differently and handled differently,” Merriweather said. “You can’t cookie cutter athletes.
“Everybody has developed differently and has their own experiences. That’s what we’re about here.
“We don’t judge each other. We love each other, respect each other and take care of each other. And we push each other, too. That’s all what you’re supposed to do and I think it’s working.”
The WSU women are in first place in the Horizon League with two games left and should they win out they could become the first Raiders basketball team — men or women — to win a regular season title outright. In the past they shared a crowd with Green Bay once.
The men’s team – also atop the Horizon League standings – could do the same. Their one title was shared with Butler.
“We put in all the hard work and dedication because we knew what we wanted,” Vogelpohl said. “We wanted to get a ring and now if we just stay with it we could do that. We control our own destiny.”
While Simmons agreed, she held up a hand in caution:
“Yeah, that’s all something to be proud of, but we’re not finished. We still have plenty of games to play. We ain’t done yet. Not at all.”