By Tim Miller
Since taking over the Cedarville women’s basketball program three seasons ago, head coach Kari Hoffman has guided her team to an average of 22 wins. Hoffman and her squads have indulged in stability for three straight years, leading to little roster turnover, few different starting lineups employed, and consistency marked by contributors who had furnished the Lady Jackets with experience and leadership.
This year, however, Cedarville launches into a new era, as every key contributor but one has now departed from Hoffman’s original core.
As the team settles into the new season, Hoffman said players themselves are trying to discern their new roles. Role players from last season who would usually make the extra pass to a shooter must now step into those shots this year.
“Some of those seniors are just absolutely not replaceable,” Hoffman said. “We lost a lot of shooters. This year, we’ve had to yell at our team to shoot the ball and stop passing up shots. I don’t think we’ve had to do that in the past four years.”
With eight underclassmen, Hoffman said this year will look different. However, the Lady Jackets may make up for some of their losses with a sixth-year player.
Forward Abby Wolford surprised the team by returning to the roster this season to use her final year of eligibility. After taking part in Senior Day festivities in March, the West Harrison, Indiana, product will lace up one last time for her final season.
Many would argue Wolford was snubbed from a first-team all-conference selection a season ago, as she was voted to the second-team. Even though she’s battled two ACL tears, Wolford still averaged 12.7 points per game on 49% shooting while pulling down 4.4 rebounds per game.
The team welcomes Wolford’s return, and her co-captain, junior guard Ashlyn Huffman, is exceedingly thankful to have Wolford back.
“She was our best player last year. She brings a lot not only in experience, but she works her butt off and is a skilled player. Teams that we are playing are going to be upset she’s coming back,” Huffman joked.
Huffman is no slouch in terms of production. Starting every game when healthy last season, the Columbus, Indiana, native averaged 12.5 points and more than doubled the second-highest assister on the team.
The Lady Jackets also return sophomore guard Emily Chapman (8.2 points per game), junior forward Stevie Johnting (played in all 30 games in 2018-19), and forwards Cam Peek, Alli Roh and Lexi Moore.
Outside of Wolford, Huffman, Chapman, Johnting and Roh, Cedarville’s experience is fairly thin. With the infusion of developing talent, Hoffman has been taking things slower in practice and spending more time on individual skill workouts.
The team, however, is excited about the ability to take ownership of performance for the first time. Sophomore guard Allison Mader is one of a laundry list of players Hoffman said would need to contribute more this season, and she said she expects many players, rather than just one or two, to break out this season.
“Our team is so fresh,” Mader said. “Each and every person on the team brings something.”
With the lack of experience, Hoffman said she anticipates a slow start. Regardless, she wants to see her team grow throughout the year and come into March hot.
“There were a lot of games last year that we won by five or 10 points, and we won because of our maturity,” Hoffman said. “We might drop a few of those to start the year.”
Huffman echoed Hoffman’s response, saying the team has a chance to progress as the season goes on for the first time.
“We have a lot of people who don’t have as much experience, but they’re super skilled and super hard-working,” Huffman said. “I’m excited to see the growth we’ll see throughout the season.”
Expectations remain high for the perennial G-MAC force. Hoffman said another 20-win season is by no means out of the question, and her players remain confident.
After falling short in the G-MAC Tournament in each of the past three seasons, Mader said she still has her sights set on capturing the elusive conference title.
“We’ve been talking a lot this year about how we don’t have to be our best in October,” Mader said. “We’re keeping the big picture in mind and focusing on March and winning the G-MAC Tournament.”
Hoffman said that while this year, some talented players must break out, there are plenty of capable candidates to do so.
“We have a lot of playmakers out there,” Hoffman said. “We have a lot of girls who can find shots for other players. Now we need to find out how to put together those girls with who can take the shots.”
Tim Miller is a senior marketing major, editor-in-chief and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, knowing too much about health insurance, and striving to perfect the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.