OXFORD, Ohio – There has been a lot of change in the Miami University women’s basketball program, yet a lot remains the same. New head coach Cleve Wright comes to Oxford after having turned Gannon into a Division II powerhouse, leading the Knights to the Elite Eight twice in the past four years. He inherits a veteran team that features nine returning letterwinners, including three returning starters from a squad that went 19-13 last season and reached the WNIT for the second consecutive year. The team has spent a lot of the summer and preseason working on the transition, and so far Coach Wright is pleased with how it has gone down.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Coach Wright. “I think the players have enjoyed being challenged, and pushed very hard. I believe our conditioning and preseason has been one that’s toughened us and brought us closer together.”
Before beginning the regular season, the RedHawks will be in action on Saturday at 2 p.m. when they take on Seton Hill for an exhibition game. Admission to the contest is free. It will also be broadcast live on Miami All-Access for those who have a subscription.
Coach Wright has established four theme words in his locker room that he calls the “four rocks.” The themes are commitment, work ethic, teamwork and relationships.
“We really feel like if we focus on those four things as our big rocks, in our program and in our culture, then we will be accomplishing our goal of excellence, which is not result-oriented, it is more process-oriented,” said Wright. “I really believe if we focus on the process, focus on each other and focus on the team, that the results take care of themselves.
“The type of leadership I want is a servant leadership, where our players will be serving each other, and that nobody is above doing anything. Our players are starting to understand that leadership and understanding that they have influence, even though they might not necessarily be a primary leader. What we are trying to establish in our first year is not only the leadership, but the culture of the team.”
Style of Play
With a new staff comes a new style of play. Coach Wright believes fans will be excited to see Miami’s aggressive offensive attack.
“Offensively, we are going to push the ball, and try to get the easiest shot in transition that we can, said Wright. “But of course it has to be a good shot. We’ll try to space out the floor and attack the block, more of an inside/outside game. When you look at our style, we’re going to get everyone involved on the offensive end.”
The defensive end will be emphasized emphatically by Coach Wright and his staff, with an emphasis on everyone being on the same page.
“In order to play the defense we want to play, we’re going to have to play as one and move together,” commented Wright. “I do like to play man-to-man defense, although I am not opposed to zone at times.
“We’re taking steps towards making sure we are on the same page during our preseason practices. We want to pressure the ball, so our energy and togetherness needs to be there for us to play as one.”
Coming together as a team early will be important, as while the RedHawks lost only two letterwinners, those two accounted for 47 percent of last season’s scoring and 36 percent of last season’s rebounds.
“I definitely think we have players that are capable of stepping up and filling that void,” said Wright. “We have the talent, the ability and the desire to do that. It’s going to be more spread out and by committee. I see so many potential people that could step up and take care of that loss, and I’m excited to see who that’s going to be.”
Player Previews – Guards
Miami features seven guards on its roster. Four returning players in senior Hannah Robertson (New Albany, Ohio), senior Haley Robertson (New Albany, Ohio), junior Courtney Larson (Columbus, Ind.) and sophomore Maddie McCallie (Durham, N.C.) are joined by three newcomers in junior transfer Kindsay Brandt (Cincinnati, Ohio) and freshmen Rachel Goddard and Jillian Spurlock. While she will primarily play in the post, sophomore Hannah McCue (Rocky River, Ohio) could also see some time in the guard rotation.
With the RedHawks looking for a new starting point guard this season, Larson, Brandt and Goddard will each be competing for minutes at that position. Larson overcame some injury issues last season to appear in 20 games and make four starts.
“Courtney is a very fundamental guard, she does a great job of talking,” said Wright. “She absolutely wants to do everything that we want to do here in the point guard position. She talks to her team and handles the ball really well. She leads both on and off the court.”
Brandt comes to Miami after playing last season at nearby Cincinnati State. She averaged 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals in 38 minutes of action per game for the Surge last season and has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“Kindsay’s a very talented guard and she’s very quick,” said Wright. “She plays with great instincts when she plays basketball. I think she’s going to be effective.”
Goddard comes to Miami from Wadsworth High School, where she was a Third Team All-Division I player as a senior last season. She led the Grizzlies to the quarterfinals each of the past two seasons, averaging 13.0 points and 3.1 assists per game as a senior. She scored 842 points as a two-year starter.
Rachel has really showed a commitment level of doing everything we’ve asked her to do, and being coachable,” said Wright. “She has good quickness and offensive abilities.”
Every guard on the roster could see some time at an off-guard spot as well. They are led by the RedHawks’ top returning scorer, Hannah Robertson. One of the team’s more athletic players, she averaged 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. She’ll be joined once again by her twin sister Haley Robertson, who had a breakout campaign last season, averaging 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.
“Hannah Robertson is a very talented guard, she really has the ability to score,” said Wright. “She is very determined, wants to lead and has the desire to contribute. I’d say almost those exact same things about Haley, she’s motivated overall. Both of them together will cause lots of problems.”
McCallie might be one of the top three-point shooters on the team. Last season she hit 37.5 percent (15-for-40) of her shots from behind the arc, and Coach Wright believes she’ll be a weapon for the ‘Hawks in the backcourt.
“Maddie has shown some toughness in the pre-season,” commented Wright. “She is a shooter, and that’s one of the roles she’ll have. She has a desire to want to increase that role.”
Spurlock is a local product who graduated from nearby Hamilton High School. She was named special mention All-State and First-Team All-District as a senior last season after averaging an impressive 22.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
“Jillian’s athleticism and explosiveness is off the charts,” said Wright. “As she gains more experience, she’ll be able to help us even more and as she understands what’s important.”
Player Preview – Posts
Coach Wright and his staff want to establish a strong inside presence this season. The RedHawks feature seven players in their post rotation this season. That includes six returning players in redshirt senior Kristin Judson (Bloomington, Ill.), senior Kelsey Simon (Vernon Hills, Ill.), senior Erica Almady (Cleveland, Ohio), sophomore Jessica Rupright (Ossian, Ind.), sophomore Hannah McCue (Rocky River, Ohio) and redshirt freshman Tamira Ford (Cleveland, Ohio). They are joined by one newcomer in freshman Nicole Anderson (Terre Haute, Ind.).
The three seniors bring a combined 221 games worth of experience to Miami. Each spent some time in the starting lineup last season and had a double digit scoring game. Almady is the team’s second-leading returning scorer after averaging 8.0 points per game in 22 contests last season. She made 19 starts after returning from an early season injury. Simon averaged 3.6 points per game, while Judson contributed 3.4.
“KJ (Judson), has the ability to shoot from the outside, has three-point range and can also work inside,” said Wright. “She does a good job in mentoring younger players, and I think she will find a way to help us.
“Kelsey has had one of the best preseasons out of all of our players that I have seen. She’s been very committed, shown improvement in the weight room and on the court, getting better every day. She’s going to lead by example with her energy on the floor.
“Erica is one of our most experienced rebounders. In fact, she is one of our most experienced players period with more career minutes and points than anyone on our team other than the Robertson twins. She really has the potential to help us inside with our style of play.”
Rupright is one of the more skilled players in the post rotation. She showed flashes of that ability during her freshman season, and Coach Wright believes she is ready to take the next step as a sophomore.
“Jessica has had a strong preseason,” said Wright. “She has improved in the weight room and really shown a commitment there. She is maturing as a player on the floor and has shown strong abilities on the offensive end. As she gains experience she’ll get better on the defensive end.”
McCue appeared in 30 games as a freshman making six starts. While primarily a forward, she spent some time in the guard rotation last year due to injuries. Coach Wright will take advantage of that versatility to play her in multiple positions again this season.
“Hannah really could play some guard for us this year but we’re primarily going to play her inside,” said Wright. “I think she is a tough match up for people because she has some quickness, some ability to put it on the floor and she can shoot the three. “I think she’s excited about this new role.”
Ford sat out last season to help adjust to the college game. Anderson comes to the RedHawks from Terre Haute North High School in Indiana, where she was named All-State last season after averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game for the Patriots as a senior.
“Tamira continues to get better and continues to grow as a player,” said Wright. “While Nicole has come in very strong -- not just physically -- but as a player. I think she will have an impact on our team immediately. I’m excited to see her as she grows throughout her freshman year and gets better and better.”
Miami will face a challenging schedule that features a total of 14 home games. Contests against 2013 postseason teams Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 8), Duquesne (Nov. 26), Florida State (Dec. 1), Youngstown State (Dec. 4), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 7), Long Beach State (Dec. 17) and San Diego State (Dec. 19) will prepare the RedHawks for an 18-game Mid-American Conference schedule, the first time teams will play 18 league games since the 1997-98 season. Coach Wright and his staff believe Miami is ready for the challenge and they have been impressed with the effort and hard work the players have put in during the preseason practices.
“I think the team is really trying to learn what we want on the court, and what we want off the court,” said Wright. “The desire to want to learn what we’re trying to teach is there, it just takes time to get it. I think we’re taking steps forward every day, and we’ve seen that happen in the preseason, both as the team as a whole and as individuals.”