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Women’s basketball continues to build in Hendrix’s second season

<p>Miami will have to rely on younger players this year after losing two stars.</p>

Miami will have to rely on younger players this year after losing two stars.

For women’s basketball head coach DeUnna Hendrix, culture is still the biggest priority in her program.

This season, though, Hendrix is looking to her players to be the driving force behind the team’s culture.

“Any time that players take ownership of their team, it looks different. You know, you’re now maximizing performance not because I’m driving you to do so but because that’s what you want to do,” Hendrix said.

The RedHawks seem to have the personnel capable of doing so. The team returns three of its starters from last year: sophomore guard Peyton Scott, senior guard Kenzie Schmitz and redshirt senior forward Abbey Hoff. Miami also returns seven players who appeared in at least 20 games last season. 

The RedHawks will add an influx of new talent, including five freshman and two transfers. One of the new transfers, sophomore guard Jordan Tuff, is familiar with the team, as she played against it as a member of the Cincinnati Bearcats last season.

Ask Hendrix about her new players, and one word pops up immediately and repeatedly: “winners.”

“They know how to win,” she said. “They’re all winners. They all have some sort of grit or toughness to them. Literally, all they wanna do is win, and they find a way to do so.”

Wins were hard to come by last season, especially in conference. The team’s record was 11-20, including a 4-14 Mid-American Conference mark. The RedHawks ended the season with a nine-game losing streak. 

Miami will have to find ways to win this season despite losing its two best players, point guard Lauren Dickerson and center Savannah Kluesner, to graduation.

The shoes of Dickerson, who ended her career as the leading scorer in Miami women’s basketball history, will be hard to fill. Luckily, the RedHawks return junior guard Vanessa Garrelts, who was Dickerson’s backup last season. Although Garrelts doesn’t have Dickerson’s scoring chops, her passing ability is more than adequate. 

Peyton Scott, who was the team’s third-leading scorer last year, will also handle some of the point guard duties, although she’s expected to be more of a combo guard. Hendrix plans on utilizing a few guards at once, with Garrelts being the only true point guard.

“(Scott) and Vanessa bring very different things in that spot, so we’ll utilize both in different ways,” Hendrix said. “But we’re also gonna, further on in the season, rely on our freshman to fill some of that void, too.”

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Kluesner was the team’s utility player last season, giving the team a little bit of everything: inside scoring, shooting, passing and defense. Expect senior forward Kelly McLaughlin to bring some of Kluesner’s production from last year, while sophomore forward Armani Freeman will bring energy off the bench.

Sophomore forward Tajah Foster-Walker will also compete for minutes. Foster-Walker averaged 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, so she could be a prime candidate to replicate Kluesner’s interior presence on defense.

Overall, though, Hendrix stresses that the entire team must be better to fill the voids of Dickerson and Kluesner.

“We’re not trying to go out and find two studs,” Hendrix said. “It’s just, let’s be really good teammates and let’s do it together and do what you do well.”

The RedHawks will open the season on the road against the Wisconsin Badgers on Nov. 25. The team’s first home game will be against Valparaiso on Dec. 8.

Miami will start its conference slate on Dec. 30 at Central Michigan.

No matter who’s on the schedule, the RedHawks hope their mix of youth and experience will be enough to bring them back to the top of the MAC.