By Alan Hieber
It was an aesthetic of jubilation at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit last Tuesday night, as the Wright State women’s basketball team captured its second Horizon League tournament championship and NCAA tournament ticket punched with a 55-52 win over Green Bay.
The Horizon League Champion Wright State women’s basketball team will play Texas A&M on Friday at College Station, Texas. Game time is 4:30 p.m. ET and will be shown on ESPN2.
“I’m ready to get down to Texas and show Texas A&M what we got,” said Emily Vogelpohl, a senior guard.
The Raiders (27-6) won the Horizon League regular-season and tournament titles with wins over Oakland, IUPUI and Green Bay. This is Wright State’s second trip to the NCAA tournament after qualifying in 2014. For the second time in program history, Wright State has received a vote in the AP Top 25 Poll.
The Aggies went 24-7 and 12-4 in the SEC and were recently ranked 14th nationally by the AP and ESPN Polls.
The league crown is a coronation in the four-year WSU careers of 1,000-point club guards Mackenzie Taylor and Emily Vogelpohland Symone Simmons, who in addition to sharing the same scoring status, has over 1,000 total rebounds.
Friday at the WSU practice pavilion the illustrious trio sat down together to discuss their reactions to Tuesday’s historic result.
It was a mix of emotions when the final buzzer sounded. While her teammates dog piled at midcourt, Simmons went to a corner of the court to collect herself for a minute as tears washed over her face in awe of the moment.
“I just took off, found Emily and we hugged and then we all fell down,” Taylor said.
Vogelpohl has re-watched the title game several times already and still gets chills she says.
“It still doesn’t seem real. You hold up the trophy and know that the past four years paid off, Vogelpohl said. “This is what we worked for so long.”
The stat line didn’t always indicate it, but Vogelpohl has been clutch this season when a standout play was needed. With just 1:06 remaining and the score tied with Green Bay at 49-49, she hit a high arching jumper from the top of the key to give the Raiders a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
WSU head coach Katrina Merriweather has lauded Vogelpohl for her sacrifice of making the decisions conducive to team success on the court, even it that meant she wouldn’t be stuffing the stat sheet like she might be able to otherwise.
“If someone is feeling it from three then I’ll give them the ball. If she wants me to rebound more then I’ll rebound more, Vogelpohl said. “It doesn’t really faze me.”
Depth has defined WSU’s season, as the team has often had 11 different players in one game
“It gave the starters a break and them some experience. They were just as good as the top five starters,” Vogelpohl said.
Rebounding has also been a recipe for success, which WSU is ranked third in the nation for on a per game basis with 45.85.
“Trina preaches rebounding and defense,” Taylor said. “It’s translated over to us because we know that we can score the ball, so we just know that we have to lock down and get stops.”
What Merriweather did off the court also had a significant impact on the title run for WSU. Over the course of the last two seasons she added 2014 Horizon League tournament champs as Raiders, guards Kim Demmings and Abby Jump.
“Abby kept preaching all year what a championship team does. It was nice to have that constant reminder of what we have to act like everyday,” Taylor said. “Trina deserves this more than any of us.”
Ahead of last Tuesday’s matchup with the Phoenix, the Raider players kept their best poker face in hiding the fact that a 62-44 loss to the same opponent the previous season might be a source of motivation. Vogelpohl called it a waxing.
When asked about that last Friday though, Simmons, Taylor and Vogelpohl chuckled in unison, revealing this did make the victory a little sweeter.
“We want to go and be competitive,” Taylor said. “We’re not just satisfied.”