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Editor’s corner: women’s basketball is poised for a big jump

<p>Miami basketball returns multiple top performers in 2023-2024</p>

Miami basketball returns multiple top performers in 2023-2024

Since DeUnna Hendrix was hired to be the head coach of Miami University women’s basketball in April 2019, the RedHawks haven’t seen much success.

Miami had a pretty great season in 2018-2019. The team finished third in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), it won 20 games for the second-straight year, and it made the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

They also got torched in the MAC semifinals, 48-74 against Ohio, the two seed, but that’s neither here nor there.

After that season, second-year coach Megan Duffy jumped ship to Marquette of the Big East, for better facilities, brighter lights and a nearly three-times-as-large paycheck. 

Then Hendrix was hired. She had just finished up an impressive tenure at High Point University, where she went 125-93, won a Big South championship in 2013-2014 and won conference coach of the year once that same season.

In Hendrix’s first season at Miami in 2019-2020, the RedHawks went 4-14 in the MAC. They had lost three starters from the 20-win team of the season before. They lost some close games and some blowouts. They had to look forward to losing Lauren Dickinson, Miami’s all-time leading scorer, who graduated at season’s end. Shortly after Miami lost to Buffalo 72-87 in the MAC tournament on March 9, 2020, the world shut down. 

Having an unprecedented pandemic shut down the world in your second season at your new home as a college basketball coach is pretty unlucky. Recruiting, the lifeblood of any program, was made nearly impossible. Teams couldn’t be together like usual; they couldn’t practice as much, couldn’t get to know each other as much. Building that culture that any new coach knows she needs to build was made nearly impossible. 

Miami didn’t do great in the COVID-19 season, which wasn’t surprising for a team with a basically brand-new head coach and newly-without Lauren Dickinson, one of its best players ever. They were better the next year, and this year even better.

This year, Miami was one game away from punching a ticket to a top-eight seed in the MAC and a trip to the conference tournament. Win against Ball State on March 4, and they were in. Ball State, one of the best teams in the MAC this year, beat them, 68-77. But they were right there.

Miami saw huge personal growth last year from many of its players. Amani Freeman, who averaged 6.6 minutes per game as a first-year, averaged a career high in points last season on nearly 60% shooting. She has become a legitimate offensive threat during her four years at Miami.

Maddi Cluse, who averaged 6.6 points per game (PPG) her first season in 2021-2022, averaged 14.9 last season, along with 8.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists. She even had a triple double, the program’s second ever, in December. She is going to be a problem for opposing teams next season.

Katey Richason improved hugely too. She took major steps with her defense and rebounding between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, and she even chipped in some offense too, which wasn’t a part of her bag in her first season. 

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Those development stories are impressive. And as Hendrix tries to take Miami to the next level through recruiting, I’d guess that women’s basketball circles around the Midwest are starting to realize: play for Hendrix, and you will become a better basketball player. The wins haven’t been there yet, but the development is. 

The 2023-2024 season is going to be better for Miami women’s basketball. The team has gotten better in each of Hendrix’s four seasons so far, and it will get better again. Ivy Wolf, last year’s starting point guard and the team’s leading scorer (and another player who saw massive improvement season-to-season under Hendrix), hit the transfer portal this week, which sucks. But it’s not the end of the world. She wasn’t the most-efficient scorer anyway.

Peyton Scott will be back for her fifth season. It’s impossible to overstate how big of a deal that is. Scott averaged 21.2 ppg in her sophomore season and 19.2 her junior season. Last year, she was coming off an ACL tear and Wolf and Cluse were shooting more, so she only averaged 15.4. But with Wolf gone and a whole other offseason removed from ACL reconstruction surgery, watch out for Scott next season. 

Scott is also an incredible leader and someone other players gravitate towards, on and off the court. Hendrix, who called Scott maybe the hardest worker she’s ever coached earlier this year, will be able to benefit from having her right-hand woman, her second coach on the floor, Peyton Scott back next season. 

Expect another step forward from Maddi Cluse and Katey Richason this season. Freeman, who seemed to get more confident on offense every single game, still has another level we haven’t seen yet.

Miami’s also bringing in some pretty impressive recruits for next season. Cristen Carter is a 6-foot-3 center from Indianapolis. She was named an Indiana All Star this season. Madison French, a guard from Lakota East High School in nearby Liberty Township, holds her school’s record for career and single-season three pointer. And Madison Huhn, from Carlsbad High School in Carlsbad, California, is that school’s all-time leading scorer now. She also averaged 23.5 points her senior season. Finally Amber Tretter, a 6-foot-1 forward from Forest Park, Indiana, was a finalist for Indiana Miss Basketball this season.

All in all, I think it’s shaping up to be a pretty good 2023-2024 for Miami women’s basketball.