- By Jay Morrison Staff Writer
The first time the Wright State women played Cleveland State, they were unable to protect an early 20-point lead.
The second time, the Raiders fell behind by 19 before coming up short on a late rally.
The third meeting comes at noon Sunday in the Horizon League tournament, where No. 3 Wright State (21-9) has the higher seed despite No. 6 CSU (19-10) having the upper hand.
But Raiders coach Katrina Merriweather said drawing the Vikings for their tournament opener isn’t going to pose any greater challenge than WSU would face if the foe was anyone else.
“We have the ninth-ranked women’s basketball league in the country, so I don’t want to see anyone,” Merriweather said. “But I do think us being competitive is important, and we’ve proven that we can play well against just about everybody in the conference. We have a lot of confidence going in, believing that we’re going to execute our game plan”
The execution wasn’t the issue as much as the effort in the most recent loss to Cleveland State, a 70-63 decision 13 days ago at the Nutter Center. Merriweather said she was disappointed and “stunned” by her team’s performance that day, and the team responded with an impressive finish to the season with wins at IUPUI, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, and UIC.
“We did a really good job of was making some adjustments defensively,” Merriweather said. “We needed to put together a different gameplan, and I think we did for IUPUI. Give the kids a lot of credit. They believed in it and executed it and it turned out well.”
The first game against Cleveland State, a tough 71-70 overtime loss Jan. 25, was part of a stretch in which the Raiders lost four of five games.
But they closed the regular season winning five of six, with the Feb. 3 loss to CSU being the only blemish.
Merriweather said she hopes those swings are finished because it’s going to take more steady play, both from the team collectively and the players individually, to advance through the tournament.
That means finding reliable production from some of the other starters to support leading scorer and HL Player of the Year Chelsea Welch.
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“I would like to see consistency,” she said. “You look at a lot of other teams, like Cleveland State, and you know what you’re going to get from (Olivia) Voskuhl and (Ashanti) Abshaw and (Khayla) Livingston. I think Chelsea has proven to be consistent this year, and it would be nice if for this string of games in the tournament we could get a couple more people to be consistent.”
Of course Merriweather also knows that unpredictably can create a wildcard element that works in her team’s favor.
“Trust me, it’s a nice problem to have because I think it’s a difficult thing to do to form a game plan against us,” she said. “You don’t really know if Symone Simmons is going to make three or four 3s. If (Mackenzie Taylor) is going to have 20 or Emily (Vogelpohl) is going to have 20. Lexi (Smith) is capable of getting 20.
“I do like the element of surprise, but I think I would like to have our team focused on what their role is and make sure they execute their roles to the 10th degree over the next few games,” she added.
The WSU-CSU winner advances to Monday’s semifinals to face IUPUI at 3:30 p.m. in the semifinals.